By Joanna Jones
Second in a series of stories where painful experiences, coupled with potentially worse sanctions in the future, lead to girls getting the impetus to give up tobacco.
* * *
I was headmaster of a Scottish school in the early 1970s. Unlike many of my English colleagues the Head had basically the same sanction as every other teacher: the belt.
Thus to some degree the mystique associated with punishments that could only happen in the Head’s study was not applicable. I did have a small advantage in that I had two belts, both with two tails; one marked with an H for heavy, the standard teacher issue, and another with the letters XH embossed in the leather of the handle. This extra heavy implement ensured some extra fear of the Head in terms of the pain it could inflict, not that the pupils knew anything other than I was a belter to be feared. The niceties of the grading system of belts was unheard of to almost all, I think. However, as a result most of the dread had to come from being in the office itself.
I also took a rather ruthless approach if I belted, especially for those I knew were common recipients. It was a general trick to try to let your hands fall if you could just before the belt hit. The aim was to reduce the impact without it being noticed. If I spotted any wavering in the hands then the pupil concerned (usually, well almost always, a boy) would get it again, and again if necessary till I was happy that he had not moved, even slightly. For those who were generally well behaved, or first timers I would be lenient on this as the movement in those cases was more nerves than a deliberate attempt to ‘cheat’, but for others keeping as still as I required was an additional tribulation.
As I say most of my ‘customers’ were boys, either sent by a teacher or prefect. In general those from teachers got a hard time from me, but those sent by a prefect for a minor offence would be the ones where I would tend use the lighter of my two belts.
One offence I disliked was smoking. I always have disliked it, even in the days when the health issues were not fully understood. I hated the fug in the staff room when I was a teacher at the start of my career and thought it a disgusting habit. When I first took up my appointment as Head, the staff were all requesting that their staff room needed redecorating. To be fair it certainly did and I got the work done over the first summer break after my appointment. They were rather shocked to find the room partitioned into a smoking and no-smoking area and while the non smokers had new chairs, the best of the old stuff was in the smokers’ zone. There was a lot of grumbling; I suppose my views were somewhat ahead of their time! I was soon known by staff as a zealot on this issue.
The pupils soon found out my zeal extended to them. For pupils caught smoking, either on school grounds or outside in uniform, I was strict. I made it absolutely clear that I expected teachers or prefects to report any such instances to me and in generally my standard minimum was three of the belt, more for persistent offenders, or if it was inside the school building rather than outside.
This offence, more than any other, was the cause of girls appearing nervously in my office. Most left in tears, though a few I remember thanked me in later life for having put them off the habit. Two of them who did so were Heather and Jackie, whose acquaintance with my belt, on the same day, forms a major part of this story.
Let’s start with me coming back along the corridor of the school on a Thursday afternoon just after lunch, having examined an issue (wear and tear) related to the school fabric with the janitor which was going to cost quite a bit to repair.
En-route was the girls’ prefect room. (The school had two smallish rooms which were in different wings for this purpose, one for the boys and one for the girls) and I decided to pop in on the off-chance the Head Girl was there, and if not to leave a message for her to seek me out.
There had been an altercation in the girls’ toilets that morning, and it appeared that the prefects tasked that week to be on duty had not actually been there to break it up. The two girls had eventually been caught by a teacher who heard the racket and investigated, and I had had to deal with two dishevelled young ladies’ stories about the reasons for the fight. They had been even more dishevelled when they left my office with very sore hands. Fighting was another quick way to get a minimum three strokes.
I knew that toilet duty was the most hated of tasks on the prefect duty rota, so their absence was not a surprise. My initial intention was to tell the Head Girl what had happened and ask her to remind her team of prefects that the privileges, such as this room, rather than a corner of the dining hall for study (and not even that at lunchtimes), or school library, did come at a cost.
I briefly knocked as I put my head round the door and saw four girls there, though not the Head Girl. Two in the middle were chatting with a coffee, but by the window were two girls who were too slow for me to not see that they were smoking.
I suspect my face darkened as their looks were ones of guilt and fear. I made a snap decision.
“All four of you, go and wait outside my study now!”
The two smokers gathered their things and slunk out. However, the two coffee drinkers looked shocked. One, called Sheila, stuttered as she reluctantly went to the sink to wash out her mug: “But we weren’t smoking.”
“Did I not state that all cases of pupils smoking were to be reported to me?” I asked. “Now get along and join your friends.” I ordered in a voice that brooked no argument.
The two girls left without further argument, although the looks on their faces showed not only a fear, but also a certain incredulity at how unfair this seemed to them.
Once they were out I took a deep breath and considered. On the wall was the duty rota. I had just sent two girls to my office for failing to carry out their duties, although at that point I had not decided what to do with them. Rather than just warning the Head Girl I decided I would interview the two delinquent prefects myself. Getting a pen out of my pocket, I took a note of the two girls’ names who were in the morning rota (afternoon break was done by two others for the week, and the four of them were supposed to police the lunch break between them.)
As I walked back to my office I pondered on what to do. What was at the back of my mind was a similar issue with the boys’ toilets (a worse duty than the girls in my opinion) a few years back. It had gone on for longer with repeated warnings before I eventually belted two prefects and, after admitting he had been aware, the Head Boy. After that I had never had a problem. Perhaps the girls needed a similar lesson.
When I got to my office I saw the four standing nervously outside. I ordered them to wait with their faces to the wall before going in. They looked extremely worried as they did so, and Heather in particular already looked quite distressed. She looked as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t bring herself to dare.
The office actually had two doors, one direct to the corridor, where they were waiting, and another to the secretaries’ reception area. Going out through the second I asked that a secretary find out where the two prefects that I had the names of were (Caroline and Lesley) and also to fetch the Head Girl (Elspeth).
Returning into my office I considered my actual plan of action, and before inviting the girls in I opened the top drawer on the left side of my desk. Gazing at the two belts inside I wondered which to go for. On the one hand these were all girls, who have smaller, more delicate hands than their male counterparts. Also, being prefects and therefore well behaved as a rule, they had in all probability had never been belted before. However, on the other they were senior pupils, and of course as prefects example setters. Eventually after some pondering I decided on the less severe option and pulled out my ‘Heavy’ belt and placed it on my desk. With that done I went to the corridor door of my office to call them in.
Heather who, along with Jackie, was one of the two smokers, seemed now not just extremely nervous but rather frantic. Even as I opened the door she had her legs crossed and she immediately looked at me and said rather desperately: “P… Please can I go to the loos, I… I…”
Her voice trailed off as I considered her request. Clearly the rising nerves as she anticipated the prospective unpleasant experience ahead was taking its toll. Finally I decided to be sympathetic to her plight and, with a sudden thought, decided on a different strategy to accommodate this turn of events.
I started. “You all know my views on smoking and be assured you are in serious trouble. What I have in mind may take a little time to arrange. So, very well Heather, I will give you and your friends here ten minutes to go and make yourselves comfortable before I discuss your options. I suggest you are not late in returning. Wait in the secretaries’ office, faces to the wall, when you come back.
With that I temporarily dismissed them. This slightly complicated matters in that, as I had three others coming, the order that I should deal with things was no longer clear cut.
I decided to wait for the ten minutes, and briefly got on with a letter that I needed to complete before going back to the reception area.
They all were in the room; four facing the wall as instructed, three milling around nervously.
I looked at Caroline and Lesley. “Can you two guess why you are here?”
Lesley bit her lip.
Caroline answered quietly. “Is it something to do with the toilet duty this morning?”
“Indeed.” I replied. “Failing to carry out your duties is something I treat most seriously and my belt is on my desk. I am going to speak to Elspeth first, so if you want time to go and make yourself comfortable then you have five minutes. When you come back you can join the others with your face to that wall.”
The blood drained from their faces as they heard the word belt, but both took the opportunity to scurry off for five minutes. Meanwhile Elspeth came into my office with a serious look on her face. She glanced at the belt, lying near the edge of the desk, before looking at me.
“You heard what I said outside.” I stated. “Do you know why the other four are waiting?”
“No, sir,” she answered cautiously.
“I went to the prefects’ room to try and catch you to discuss the toilet duty issue, and two of them were smoking.”
Her face was impassive, but I got the impression that any surprise might have been with me going to the room rather than what I found there.
However, I carried on. “I am going to ask you two questions, to which the answer will either be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Please do not answer immediately. I will give you five minutes to consider. If the answers are ‘no’ then I plan no action. However, if I later find that not to be true then I will give you a severe belting and you will no longer be either Head Girl, or even a prefect.”
She tried to interrupt me at this point, but I forestalled her. “Let me finish,” I said, then continued: “If the answer to either is yes, then I will give you the choice of taking the belt, or losing your status as Head Girl, although I will let you remain a prefect in that case. Do you understand so far?”
She looked quite intimidated and worried now, far from the normally self-confident young lady I normally dealt with. Cautiously she nodded and said: “Yes, headmaster.”
“Right,” I said. “Here are the two questions: One: Are you, or have you ever been, aware of prefects smoking in your common room or on school grounds? And two: Have you ever been aware of prefects skipping their duties and failed to do anything about it? You may go and have your five minutes to consider.”
She bit her lip, but did not leave. “I can answer now to both,” she said quietly. “To both it is yes. I am sorry for letting you down, sir.” The last sentence seemed very genuine which did not surprise me. She was a conscientious girl who was absolutely trustworthy, but had made a mistake.
Unfortunately for her she was now going to pay for it. I started with the positives. “Your admission, honesty and acknowledgement of the error are exactly the reasons you are Head Girl. However, you have made serious errors of judgment in knowingly allowing one of the areas to be unmonitored and in allowing your prefects to freely smoke when you would have, I expect, brought any other pupil to see me.”
She nodded at this point and looked very nervous as I gave her the choice she knew was coming.
“If you want to remain Head Girl I propose to give you four of the belt.”
As I looked at the horror on her face I continued: “You are the leader of the girls and you must accept ultimate responsibility for what has happened.”
It took a long pause before she said after a shuddering breath: “I’ll take the belt, please.”
“Very well.” I said. “I want to make sure this does not happen again. Therefore I am going to belt all of those who choose the option to retain their badge in front of the other girl prefects. I wish all of your colleagues to understand two things from this: First that you will have no option but to report them if they ‘forget’ their task or disobey school rules; and second if they do forget their duty then they can expect severe sanctions.”
If she appeared horrified before, she now looked physically sick. “It will take a while to gather them together so you may have your five minutes to freshen up if you wish, then join your colleagues facing the wall in silence, and consider your predicament.
I don’t think she could really speak, as she only nodded as she went to the door.
Before moving on, I asked the secretary to ask all the girl prefects to be gathered outside my corridor door as soon as possible, and also to get the Head Boy to wait in the reception area. Considering there was now a line of nervous senior girls facing the wall in disgrace in the reception I told the secretary to reassure him that he could sit as he was not in any trouble.
The two others were not back yet so I called in the two girls, Sheila and Jennifer, who had been drinking coffee. They looked very subdued as I gave them a long lecture. The synopsis of it was that they had been told to report any case of smoking and the fact that it was their friends doing it should make no difference. They had failed in their duty therefore as prefects. As I told them their option of three of the belt or resign as a prefect they both looked aghast.
However, after a little fidgeting and glancing at each other they both opted for the belt. I sent them out to wait, and send Heather and Jackie in.
The two of them now looked quite terrified as I stared at them across my desk. Eventually I said: “Well have you anything to say for yourselves?”
Both of them stuttered an apology in turn.
I then gave them my standard lecture on the evils of smoking as they stood staring down at my belt lying on the desk in front of them. The usual lecture was of course embellished with comments about them being prefects and examples to the school.
They looked pretty upset as I eventually got to their punishments.
“My minimum for actually smoking within the building is four of the belt,” I said. “In addition I cannot tolerate smoking among prefects who are here to police that rule, so you will both lose your badge.”
There were now distraught tears as that sank in. Both of them immediately started to beg for another chance, which was as I expected.
I gave it a minute or so before eventually I gave them my alternative. “Very well. If you want to keep your badge these are my conditions: Three extra strokes of the belt now, totalling seven, which I assure you will be very painful, and in addition a guarantee that you never smoke again, even out of uniform, anywhere from now until the day you complete your studies. If you fail to keep that I will give you my maximum ten with my other, heavier belt as well as take your badges.”
They rapidly agreed to have seven each and made their promises. I warned them I would inform their parents also.
I sent them outside to ponder their fates and of course by this point Caroline and Lesley had returned.
Before calling those two in, I did indeed call the mothers of Heather and Jackie. They were surprised that their daughters smoked, let alone had been caught smoking, and were shocked at the punishment. Both however agreed with it after I explained the reasoning and that their daughters had elected to save their badges. I always tried to phone when giving a ‘severe’ belting (which I defined as more than six strokes) as it gave the parents an opportunity to register a concern.
Calling Caroline and Lesley in, I lectured them on the privileges of the position and the duties it involved. Eventually I gave them the same choice as Sheila and Jennifer.
Once again there were a lot of horrified glances at each other, and at the tawse still lying on my desk, before they too both opted for the belt.
I sent them to stand at one side of my study with their hands on their heads, but facing out into the room this time, and they were soon joined by the other five outside my door. Donald, the Head Boy, was already waiting and jumped up as I came out into the reception. I told him that I had a disciplinary matter to attend to and wished to speak to him after. He looked rather concerned as I left him.
It took a little while longer, with seven girls showing various states of trepidation standing along on wall of my study, before a secretary popped her head round the door and informed me she’d got as many of the girls as she could find.
After thanking her I walked over to the door and invited around fifteen or so girls in. There were a few gasps as they saw their colleagues standing, now blushing, facing them.
They were silent and rather intimidated as I gave a long lecture on the evils of smoking, and on the privileges and duties of a prefect and how they go hand in hand. In doing so I explained why each girl was facing them.
When the punishments were announced there was shocked muttering that became astonishment as I said: “Be warned, these girls are getting off lightly. In future I will use my other heavier belt on any prefect failing to do their duty, as well as giving more strokes, and you may not even get the chance to keep your badge! Is that clear to you all?”
I noticed many mutterings of assent as I picked up my belt and turned to the seven. Jackie looked like she was crying, and a couple of others, including Heather, looked very near tears. I reminded them of my rules; no moving the hands during the strokes, and swap hands after each blow. I usually made a point of requesting that they keep their hands out all the time, but as this belting was a harsh introduction to most I let that be. However, after their punishments they were to stand facing the wall with their hands behind them, palms outwards so that all the others could see the result of their failures.
Toilet duty delinquents first:
“Lesley, over here, hands out!”
It took her a brief moment to force her body into motion and shuffle across to where I was pointing. Her light brown hair framed a rather determined looking face as her slowly raised her hands, left on right.
Her eyes watched mesmerised as the two tailed belt was raised over my shoulder, then suddenly arced down.
Her eyes widened as the effect was felt. I doubt she expected it to hurt so much. However, her mouth merely tightened to a grimace as she swapped her hands.
I could see clenched teeth as again she held steady and watched the leather as the second of her three slapped down.
Some facial contortions, but still no sound. The hands were swapped again.
On the final blow, to the left hand, she let out a little high pitch grunt and then she clasped her hands together. Her face was flushed as she walked slowly back to her position taking a few deep breaths as she did so. She immediately faced the wall and placed her hands on the back of her skirt with her bright red palms facing out.
I was impressed; not many so-called tough boys had shown that much self control.
As I turned I could see Caroline clearly trying to build herself up. She knew she was going to be next.
She slowly came across as I beckoned her. Even more slowly she stuck her hands out, starting right on left (she was left handed). As I raised my belt she looked directly at me. Her blue eyes, framed by long blonde hair held back at the front with an Alice band, seemed to beg for leniency.
She too watched the leather arc down on the first stroke.
Whether in shock or genuine pain she screamed as the impact was felt. I briefly waited as she managed to regain control of her hands and proffer the left for punishment.
She adopted the more usual strategy of closing her eyes as the second whipped down, leading to another scream. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple of the prefects wince in sympathy as Caroline tried to keep control of herself.
After a brief squeeze she stuck her hands out again for the final blow. The belt was already over my shoulder and before she had time to realise it was coming I whipped it down along the length of her right palm. This time there was an almighty “o-o-ow” sound and I noticed her eyes were reddening. Meanwhile she clamped her hands under her arms as she made her way back to her place and faced the wall. Once there she made a quick wipe of her sleeve across her face before displaying her reddened palms side by side behind her.
Both Heather and, especially, Jackie looked to be somewhat terror stricken as I turned round to decide on my next victim.
It was coffee drinkers next, and Sheila was closest.
“Sheila over here, and get ready,” I ordered. It took three deep breaths before she finally got her legs into motion. Once in position she looked at the other prefects watching in rather awed silence, set her face and stuck out her hands. Her eyes seemed glassy as she focused on something, possibly a book spine, on the shelf in the corner. While her face contorted with each blow her eyes never left looking at that spot as she swapped her hands after each stroke.
Another girl who managed to take here punishment exceptionally well. Her face was flushed but she was dry eyed. After a brief rub of her palms as she walked back, she put them quickly face out on the back of her skirt.
Jennifer was a different story. She took as long as it was possible to creep across the floor and longer still to stick her hands in position. Tears of shame and frustration were already trickling from her eyes.
Like Caroline, her entire face seemed to be begging to be let off.
I raised my belt slowly and she watched my face as I whipped it down towards her left palm. However, at the last minute her courage failed her and the stroke went though thin air. I managed to check it off to one side, just before it hit my legs.
“Jennifer! How dare you! You’ve brought girls to me for exactly this treatment and I expect you to take it just as they did. Two extra and we’ll start again!”
Just like teachers, some prefects were more strict than others. While most had rarely if ever sent a girl, or boy, to me there were a group of around six girls and four boys who seemed to find good reasons to bring panic stricken pupils to see me more frequently. My ‘contract’ with the prefects was that I knew their duties were hard work, but I would support them if they found they needed to bring someone to me, unless of course it was totally frivolous. Jennifer was one I would put in this group of ‘disciplinarians’.
She gasped as she realised she was now up to five. As she stuck her hands out again the tear streaks emanating from her tightly closed eyes were clear.
She rather wailed her way through the five strokes, each time clamping her hands to her midriff after the slap before slowly pushing them out. I heard a lot of half hearted pleas as she took her punishment. However she did at least manage to keep her hands in position though her eyes remained firmly shut throughout.
As soon as the fifth slap echoed round the room she clamped her hands between her thighs and somehow, moaning all the time, she staggered back to the line. It took her an age to display her bright red hands, and it was only just before I was going to remind her that she settled into the required pose. She was still crying profusely.
As she staggered back I had noticed the looks of horror on many of the other girl prefects witnessing this. I was glad they could see that a belting was no trivial punishment.
As I turned to the three remaining girls, Elspeth started to make a move. However with a wave of my hand I stopped her, and called Heather across.
Elspeth bit her lip as she realised she was to be last. Heather on the other hand looked wide eyed as she realised her time had come. She forced herself to the position and slowly raised her hands. Her face looked pale with nerves as she waited with her eyes focused on the pale skin of her left palm. I noticed she was still wearing a ring and watch and ordered her to take them off. The four others had either not been wearing one or had the presence of mind to remove them.
The watch came off easily enough, but the ring seemed to take an age before she’d twisted it off her right little finger. I reminded her that rings were not on the list of allowed jewellery items. (Only stud earrings and watches were sanctioned, and the former were discouraged.)
She adopted the same position as before, and the first stroke whipped down. Her face grimaced as she swapped her palms.
On the second she gasped a bit and briefly waved her right hand before putting it under her left.
That pretty much set the tone for the next two strokes: The slap, a wave of the hand, an ever more anguished gasp, followed by the belted hand being returned to position under the other.
However, on the fifth the pain finally got to her and with a scream she clamped her hands under her arms and danced on the spot, tears starting to track down her, rather pretty as it happens, face.
I waited, and slowly she extended her right palm for its third stroke. Her legs were shaking and her eyes were firmly shut as I slapped the blow down, succeeded by a shill cry and much hand waving.
Eventually as I started to consider ordering her to return her hands she managed to set her left palm for the final blow. She was breathing deeply as she waited for the stroke. After a brief pause I cracked it down along the length of her already brightly reddened palm. A wail as her punishment was concluded and she hopped around with her hands under her armpits.
Eventually she stumbled, audibly crying back to the line and I heard another small wail as her opened her palms fully to display them behind her.
Jackie looked in utter shock as she watched her co-smoker’s return, with two hands in absolute agony judging by her behaviour.
I had to call her across twice before she finally faced me wringing her hands nervously.
“Hands out, Jackie. You know what to do!” I ordered.
Tears were already trickling down her cheeks as I raised the belt. She watched as I whipped it down, and with a resounding ‘Slap’ to her left hand her punishment started. She screamed and waved her hand around at the shock.
After a few seconds it was between her legs and clearly showed no sign of moving. Eventually I ordered angrily. “Jackie I have hardly started; get your right hand out now.”
With tears now steaming down her face she eventually complied and a second Slap and scream echoed round the room. Once again she needed to be reminded to put her hands out. I could see this dose of the belt was going to take a long time! It was clear she was already struggling and it took seemingly an eternity for her to get her left hand out again.
Finally I could raise my belt once more to bring it swishing down. Slap! However, the blow hit my own leg as her hands moved at the very last moment as her courage left her. I cursed silently to myself at the sting on my leg. It had been a long time since I’d missed a hand movement enough to not stop it in time.
Glaring at her I walked behind my desk and pulled out the other belt. “How dare you move!” I growled. “In your case I am not going to give you extra, but you will get your five remaining with this, which I assure you stings a lot more.”
“I… I’m s-sorry,” she stuttered plaintively between the tears.
I ignored her and ordered her hands out again. Eventually she was ready and I whipped the tawse down hard onto her left palm. Her eyes nearly popped as she screamed blue murder at the stinging pain of the XH belt. One or two of the other prefects had their hands to their faces, and another seemed to be red eyed in sympathy at seeing their colleague so brutally belted at such close quarters.
Again after persuasion she got her right hand out. However, again her courage failed her, and the stroke went through thin air, this time missing my legs as I caught the stroke in time.
“Two extra,” I said. “And take your tights down to below your knees. NOW!” I ordered as she looked at me horrified.
As she fumbled under her skirt the deputy head girl, Pamela, fearfully came up to me. “I, I th… thought you could only belt hands sir?” She stuttered quietly.
I was impressed she had the courage to confront me. Another natural pupil leader I thought as I turned my attention to her ‘question’. “Indeed, Pamela, and that is still my intention. Please just watch.” I said as I cleared a space on my desk.
Jackie now had the tights to her calves and I ordered her to sit on my desk with her legs tight together. Once in position she balked a bit as I ordered her lift her skirt sufficiently to bare the lower two thirds or so of her thighs, but eventually wriggled her skirt up into position.
“Right Jackie, this is what is going to happen. You will lean back slightly and put your hands out directly above your legs. If you move then the belt will hit your legs rather than mine. And I assure you that it is far more painful there than on your hands. Of course in addition the stroke will not count. Are you clear?”
She seemed unable to speak as she nodded and held her hands out as I asked her to confirm she had understood.
“Six to go now.” I reminded her angrily as I raised the belt into my shoulder and brought it down full force with no worry about it catching me again if she moved. Slap! She screamed as her right hand finally received its second blow.
Yet again she needed reminding we did not have all day as I raised the belt to her raw left palm. Yet again she moved, but this time the belt carried on, slapping the lower half of the insides of both thighs.
The ear rending screech came from the core of her body as she tried in vain to cope with the effect it had. Immediately both hands were massaging the affected areas, and she was utterly oblivious to the sight of white fabric between her legs that was displayed to me and those prefects directly behind.
I gave her a bit longer before telling her to push her legs together and put her hands out. I reminded her that he should keep still if she wanted to avoid that happening again.
I felt rather sorry for her inability to cope with her punishment in front of her friends as she once again managed to push her hands out. She was looking at me through a veil of tears and I suggested she close her eyes.
Slap! Scream! Now ‘only’ four to go.
After a minimal wait I ordered her hands back to position for the repeat to her right hand, which she took without moving.
However on the ‘seventh’ stroke it was the top of her left lower thigh again that took the blow leaving a nasty red stripe along its length. She doubled over as she clamped her hands to it but I forcibly stopped her and eventually we had a second attempt at stroke seven.
Slap! Right thigh this time! She seemed unable to keep still. This time I waited until she had better control of herself.
Once she could understand what I was saying I told her she either stayed still, or gave me her perfect badge and left. She’d had enough for the smoking after all.
She looked at me a long time, presumably pondering whether the dark red badge she wore on her blazer was worth the agonies, before finally sticking her hands out.
With the threat of losing her status as a prefect stiffening her resolve she somehow got through the last three blows with a little less fuss. Her face was a mess as she slid off the desk, oblivious again to the lack of modesty she exhibited in doing so, and stumbled back to her place. Her hands seemed unable to pull her tights up, and I signalled Pamela who as gently and discretely as possible managed to return them up, accompanied by more cries as the fabric slid up her reddened legs.
She was sobbing continuously as Pamela gently got her also to put her hands behind her in my requested position.
As I looked around the room I saw quite a few witnesses in tears, with others in clear shock. A lecture from me: “A belting is no joke punishment. If you don’t do your duties then you know what you can expect. Further if you have missed your duty before, then don’t expect people to cover for you, especially not the Head Girl.” She was now being belted as she had covered up for people in the past, and I said clearly that if they had failed in their duty they should be extremely thankful they were escaping with their hands intact, as I regarded that Elspeth was taking the punishment for all those who had let themselves down in the past.
Finally I called Elspeth over. There was a blaze in her eyes and grimness in her determination as she literally marched across the room, unclipping her watch on the way, before thrusting her hands out in front of me.
It is difficult to describe the attitude, almost defiant in a way, as she stood there. It was almost as if she had said to herself: “I am leader of these girls and I will show them how I accept my responsibility.” I wondered if she would keep it together all the way through the four allotted strokes.
I suddenly realised I was still holding the more painful of my two weapons, and to be fair, swapped it for the other before raising it over my shoulder.
Elspeth was staring, face set, straight into me. An invitation: “Do your worst. I am ready.”
I obliged with a hard stroke to her left palm; a small twist of the mouth was all I got as she briskly swapped her palms.
Again no significant emotion and she was still staring resolutely into my face. I was amazed. The look she gave me seemed to say: “Is that your best?”
A bit more of a twist around the mouth, but still she swapped her hands immediately, inviting me to get on with it.
For the final slap I whipped it down as hard as all the others. Another small gasp as she lowered her hands slowly to her sides and marched back and assumed the required position. She had not wailed once, nor had she even acknowledged the pain in her hands at the end. In my career to that point I could only think of two boys who had equalled that level of control. I had indeed done my worst and she had proven up to it.
I don’t know which prefect started, but one applauded and soon they all were. She had taken the punishment for them and most I expect were very grateful that they were not also in the ‘firing line’. Elspeth, who had remained utterly stone faced and dry-eyed throughout, seemed to find the approval of her colleagues harder to accept as I noticed a little wetness on the side of her face I could see as she stood looking at the wall.
Finally I dismissed the witnesses out to the corridor with an admonishment not to push their luck again, before allowing the punished girls to turn round and “relax”. Most reverted immediately to clamping their hands while a couple of the earlier ones cradled them, examining their still bright red palms. Only Elspeth refused to engage in that, merely dropping them to her sides.
I dismissed the six through the reception where Donald watched incredulously as they paraded past him, Heather and Jackie in particular still clearly in some distress.
Inviting Donald in to join Elspeth, I asked her to show him her hands and he winced at the bright red sight as she rather reluctantly did so. I then warned him that failures by the boys would be treated equally harshly in the future, and encouraged him to spread the word.
With that I dismissed them.
I had no further problems with prefects and their duties for many years after as a result of my exertions that day.
However, I was most satisfied when Jackie and Heather came back one December, just before Christmas, a few years later. Both had never smoked since that day, and were both very thankful that I had stopped them, having seen the difficulties many of their student friends seemed to have had in trying to give up.
A school lesson well learned, I thought!