Longer Lines

A Sequel to ‘More Lines’, the headmaster’s secretary gets into more difficulty.

By Hilary Wilmington

“No!”

“I shall only repeat myself once more. Hold out your other hand.”

Lucy was listening at the connecting door between her own office and that of Mr Clements, and she was most frustrated at having missed the beginning of this scene. She had been away delivering a message to the kitchen, and when she had returned to her desk and had been about to start typing again, her ear had caught the unmistakeable sounds of a punishment in progress next door. She had hurried over to listen and been just in time to hear this girl, whoever she was, uttering this refusal. Might she be the extremely troublesome new girl in the sixth form, Lucy wondered, the one all the teachers were complaining about?

Mr Clements had not raised his voice. He never did. But Lucy could not imagine anyone being able to disobey an order from him. She certainly couldn’t imagine herself ever doing so and she, it must be said, despite being his secretary and not a pupil, had received this very same order from him, more than once.

“Why should I?” asked the girl defiantly.

“If you don’t, you will regret it,” he warned. He sounded very displeased indeed but he remained characteristically calm and authoritative. “Disobedience is what landed you in this trouble in the first place, Marilyn, and if you continue with it, it will be worse for you.”

Marilyn! Yes, it was indeed the new girl in the sixth form.

“I’m not going to,” the girl repeated obstinately. “I didn’t get the cane in my last school.”

“You were expelled from your last school and you might end up being expelled from this one as well. I don’t know what your parents would have to say about that. You have two more strokes to come and I’d advise you to get it over with,” he said.

“I don’t want to,” was the sulky response. It sounded as though she was weakening. Lucy wondered whether Mr Clements was going to repeat his order, despite having said he wouldn’t. There followed a few moments of silence, however, at the end of which he said: “Go and stand in the corner.” The girl must have obeyed this order, at least, because Lucy then heard him say: “Face the wall. Now wait there.”

Then she heard his door open and then close again. Lucy went swiftly back to her desk and started clattering on her typewriter. It wasn’t long before she heard Mr Clements re-entering his office, talking to someone.

She returned to her listening station and was in time to hear: “Miss Carter has kindly agreed to assist me.”

Miss Carter was one of the gym teachers, a large, hearty woman who strode about in a short blue games skirt and blew her whistle, indoors or out, at the slightest opportunity.

“Come over here,” Mr Clements said. Then a few seconds later: “Bend over my desk.”

Lucy heard Miss Carter’s voice next, saying: “Would you like me to help you do that, young lady?”

Then the girl: “Please sir, I’ve changed my mind, sir. I’ll hold my hand out. There.”

Then Mr Clements again: “It’s too late for that now. Do what you’re told and be quick about it.”

This was followed by a few moments without anybody saying anything, during which Lucy could hear some shuffling about. She had to use her imagination to interpret this and the next bit, when Miss Carter said: “We’ll need this up and out of the way, won’t we headmaster? And we’ll have these down.”

At this point Mr Clements cut in quickly: “No, not those. She is entitled to retain one layer of clothing.”

A sort of “Hmph” noise of dissatisfaction came from Miss Carter.

“You will not be surprised to hear,” (this was Mr Clements speaking again) “that after all the trouble you have caused I am going to start your punishment again.”

The girl said something in not much more than a whisper and Lucy could not make out the words. It sounded as though she was pleading with him. If she was, it was without success because the next thing she heard was unmistakably the sound of a stroke of the cane, and it was followed by another, then another, then another. They were louder than any Lucy had heard before in all her vigils at the connecting door, and there were longer intervals between them.

Then Mr Clements said: “You may get up now, Marilyn. Please remember that if you are to stay in this school you must obey your teachers.”

“Yes sir, I will sir, I’m very sorry sir,” the girl replied. She sounded suitably chastened, although, as far as Lucy could tell, she was not crying.

After the girl was dismissed, Lucy was about to make her way back to her desk, when she heard Miss Carter say: “Good effort, headmaster, but you’ll have to invest in a bigger cane for whackings on the bee-tee-em! I don’t think that one’s up to the job. Especially if there’s a silly ‘one layer of clothing’ rule!”

Lucy seethed with indignation. How dare Miss Carter speak with such vulgar familiarity to Mr Clements!

She was glad to hear his frosty reply: “It is not for me, and certainly not for you, to question the regulations, Miss Carter. Thank you for your assistance; that will be all.”

In Lucy’s opinion, Miss Carter deserved a lesson in respect on her own “bee-tee-em”, a job that that cane would certainly not be up to!

She returned to her desk, her mind still full of what she had heard. She wondered how Marilyn felt now and how long it would be before she had an opportunity to look at herself in the mirror and what it would look like when she did. She thought about what Miss Carter had said as well. It reminded her of the occasion, shortly after her arrival at the school, when Mr Clements had asked her to order more canes. There was a choice regarding length, and he had only wanted the shortest because they were only for use on girls’ hands. She wondered, in the light of what had just happened, if he would review that decision.

Lucy vowed to push what she had just heard out of her mind for the moment in order to concentrate entirely on her work. It was the second week of the summer term and she had lots to do. She had enjoyed the holidays, but she also enjoyed being back at work. Lucy had been working for Mr Clements for nearly two years.  During that time they had doubtless got to know each other better, but their relationship was still very formal. She didn’t mind that. She knew where she was with him, as she explained to her friends whenever she talked about her work. She did not of course tell them about the punishments she received for lateness. She didn’t even mind those. Or rather, she minded them, as she was supposed to, but she didn’t resent them. It was far better than if he’d nagged her and borne a grudge about it. It was all over in a matter of seconds. The most she’d ever had was two strokes on each hand and even that had only happened twice. It was the same when he rebuked her for making a mistake; it was over and done with in a few seconds and then everything was back to normal.

On the Friday morning of the third week she arrived at school to find the postman waiting for her, with a bundle of large brown envelopes. They were not only gummed down in the usual way, but fastened in addition with old-fashioned wax seals.

“They’ll be exam papers,” he asserted confidently. “You have to sign for them. Registered post.”

“Oh, thank you for waiting for me,” she said.

“It’s a pleasure to wait for a girl like you,” he replied, with a smile and a wink.

“Where do I sign?” she asked, being careful not to give any hint of a smile in return. Shy she might be, but numerous experiences of this sort had hardened her.

“Right here,” he said. “And I’m going to tell you something in confidence.” He leaned over her and lowered his voice. “Your husband is a lucky man.”

“If you’ll excuse me, I’m busy,” she said. Nothing daunted, he gave her another broad wink before departing.

Sitting at her desk, trying to get on with her work, Lucy allowed her mind to wander again. Her husband was a puzzle to her. If he was ‘lucky’, he didn’t take much interest in his luck. She considered it her wifely duty to give him whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it, but he chose to spend most of his time with his pals down at the pub or playing cricket or watching football. She did not consider herself unhappy, however. Most people had at least some part of their lives which was a lot less than ideal. And to balance the partial disappointment of her marriage, Lucy had her children and the knowledge that she was highly valued in her large extended family.

Thinking of her family made her think also of those items the postman had delivered. She was having a lot to do lately with her husband’s brother’s son, Ronald, of whom she was particularly fond. He had gone off the rails and things were very difficult for him at home. Relations with his father, particularly, had soured and he spent most of his weekends in Lucy’s house. He was not particularly academic, but he was very practical and Lucy had been encouraging him to try and get qualified in a trade. He had been offered an apprenticeship to become an electrician, but it was conditional on him passing O-Level Maths. Lucy herself had not excelled at maths at school but with hard work she had nevertheless got quite a good grade in the examination, so she was often able to help him. She knew full well, though, that he would be lucky to pass, despite the sudden spurt of energy he was putting into it now. Perhaps the very paper he was to sit was in the pile in front of her.

She took the envelopes through to Mr Clements, who told her to lock them securely away. They would need to be produced, as and when required, but that was several weeks away.

“The seal on this one is cracked,” Lucy told him. “It was probably the postman. Should I inform them about it, do you think?”

“No,” he said. “They won’t thank you for informing them. It would only create unnecessary problems. Leave it.”

‘He is so decisive,’ thought Lucy admiringly.

As she locked the envelopes away, she saw that the label on the back of the one with the cracked seal announced that it contained the O-Level Mathematics papers. For the next few hours, she tortured herself with thoughts about that envelope. Ronald had left it too late. He couldn’t revise everything. His salvation lay just a few feet away from her. What a coincidence that it should be that one, of all of them, on which the seal had been cracked. Was it meant in some way that she should get this opportunity to help Ronald? Or should she think of it as a test of her ability to resist temptation?

Towards the end of the morning, Mr Clements asked her if she had finished typing the provisional list of classes and their teachers for the following year so that he could give them to Mr Corton, the head of mathematics, who devised the timetable. She had to confess she hadn’t and he expressed his displeasure.

“I’m sorry, headmaster. I must work harder at the tasks I am given to do.”

“You must,” he said austerely.

So she did. For the next hour and a half her mind was occupied by nothing but the typing of lists of pupil names, subjects and teachers’ names. It was well into her lunch break by the time she’d finished. She took them in to him after lunch. He looked through them, sheet by sheet. Lucy was reminded of the way he looked through her lines when she had to write them for him. She thought of what she had said to him earlier. “I must work harder at the tasks that I am given to do”, and thought this would be a good sentence to write a hundred times as a punishment for her lack of attention to her work this morning. She wondered about suggesting it to him but told herself not to be silly. It was not her place to suggest such a thing. Besides, he had never punished her for anything except lateness, so why would he start now? After perusing the sheets for a few moments, Mr Clements pronounced them ‘most satisfactory’ and asked her to take them to Mr Corton.

Mr Corton greeted her with mock horror. “Not the timetable already!” he protested. “As if I didn’t have enough on my plate with the exams coming up in three weeks.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” said Lucy, “My husband’s nephew is taking the maths O-Level.”

“Well I hope for all our sakes it’s not as difficult as last year,” said Mr Corton.

Back in her office, Lucy sat glumly, trying once more to concentrate. Everything seemed to be conspiring to tempt her to commit the awful deed. It felt as though she was being taunted by the opportunity dangled in front of her. But there was worse to come. Half an hour later Mr Clements put his head round the door and said: “I’m on the interview panel for the headship of St Michael’s, Mrs Burford, so I am off now. I will see you tomorrow.”

The coast was clear. She might not have an opportunity like this again. For a full ten minutes, Lucy stared at the cupboard in which she had locked the examination papers. If she could just have a look at it so that she knew the sort of questions that were in it, she would be able, without telling him, to steer Ronald’s revision so that it would be more useful. At the end of that ten minutes she found herself getting up, unlocking the cupboard, extracting the relevant envelope and taking it over to the kettle which stood, already full of water and recently boiled, in a corner of her office. She steamed the envelope open, extracted the paper and read it. She was dismayed by what she read. Apart from one question, it did not seem to bear a close relationship to the revision she had done so far with Ronald. She looked at the clock. She would spend fifteen minutes with it and then she would put it back, just as it was.

She tried to memorise it but she was in too anxious a state to absorb it. She sat down, took a sheet of paper and scribbled some notes. There was one question, requiring trigonometry to work out angles and lengths of a triangle, that she did not understand at all. She copied this one out exactly and in its entirety. She glanced at the clock. The fifteen minutes she had allowed herself were up. She made a very neat job of re-sealing the envelope, ensuring that the two halves of the cracked sealing wax were exactly aligned. She would defy anyone to notice that it had been tampered with.

It was several days before disaster struck. Mr Clements came into her office to inform her that he had decided to order a new desk for himself and he wondered if it would be best for her to take over his current desk, which was a bit longer than hers. She would be able to fit her typewriter and writing materials side by side more comfortably. He was looked down at her desk and his eye was caught by something on her large blotting pad. With his finger, he traced out a shape that was imprinted on it. A triangle!

“Have you been doing some geometry, Mrs Burford?” he asked. He did not sound in the least suspicious, merely curious. Lucy, however, went as white as a sheet. She was paralysed with fear and guilt. She could think of nothing to say. The outline of the triangle from the trigonometry question had been transferred by the press of her pen through her notepaper. She just sat there, dumbfounded, appalled.

Mr Clements looked at her, puzzled. “Are you all right, Mrs Burford?” he asked.

Still she said nothing. As the seconds ticked away, Mr Clements’ expression changed. Concern was replaced by puzzlement, which was in turn replaced by disappointment and embarrassment and finally disillusionment. After a few moments, he walked silently out of the room and back to his own office. He seemed, as he went, to be as devastated as she was.

Lucy sat at her desk, wanting the ground to swallow her up. Her mind went over and over what she had done and the catastrophe it had brought about. She endured it for twenty minutes, then she went through to Mr Clements and poured out a complete confession, omitting nothing, choking through her tears.

That night was the most awful of Lucy’s life. She lay awake until two-thirty in the morning before falling into a fitful sleep, to be woken by her alarm four hours later. Mr Clements had sent her straight home. She had asked if she was to take her personal effects with her, thinking she was being summarily dismissed. He’d said no, he needed time to think about it. He would tell her the next day what he had decided to do.

When she went to see him next morning Mr Clements told her he ought to dismiss her forthwith. He said he believed what she had told him and he was aware that there were certain mitigating circumstances. “I accept that your motivation was a misplaced desire to help your relative, rather than seeking advantage for yourself. I am willing to believe that it was a temptation you gave in to on the spur of the moment. Perhaps irrationally.” He went on: “I even believe you when you say that it was not you that broke the seal on the envelope.”

“Thank you, headmaster,” she whispered.

“However,” he went on, “It was an extremely serious transgression for any employee, especially one in a position of trust, like you.” He proceeded, uncharacteristically, to lecture her at great length in this fashion. Others might have found him pompous, but not Lucy, although she was unable to give it the attention it deserved. While she was longing for him to get to the end so she could learn her fate, he on the other hand seemed to be putting it off, as though he could not face it. Lucy feared the worst. At last, the conclusion came.

“I have decided to punish you myself,” he said. “But I’m afraid this transgression is in a different category altogether from being late for work. You had better order one of those longer canes.”

“The thirty-four inch ones?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“I will put the order in immediately, headmaster.” Relief flooded through her. “But,” she continued as the implication dawned on her, “It will not arrive for at least a week.”

“That is true. You can occupy yourself in the mean time by writing lines for me. Three hundred of them this time.”

“Yes, headmaster. What sentence shall I write?”

“Let me see. Write this: ‘I have done something very wrong and I deserve a beating on my…’ No, not that, let me see: ‘I have done something very wrong and I must bend over for a beating’. Yes, that will do.”

“Yes, headmaster. Shall I write ‘very, very wrong’? Because it was, I know.”

“I will leave the exact wording to you. I know I can trust you.” The fact that he did not appear to be being sarcastic gave Lucy an extra stab of remorse.

“I may not be able to do them tonight, headmaster, because of family commitments.” She felt yet another stab of guilt. Ronald was coming round to her house for a maths revision session. She had been going to cancel it at first but she had since changed her mind. What she had done could not be undone and she still desperately wanted some good, as she thought of it, to come out of this episode.

“There is no hurry. Those can take a week as well. That would be a better arrangement, in fact.”

Lucy wasted no time in putting in the order. She added several other items to it in an effort to make its real purpose less obvious. She took it down to the post office herself at lunch time and posted it first class. It was Thursday. She hoped the order would be delivered before the end of the following week, but she was not hopeful.

That evening, after Ronald had left, she decided she could afford to spend half an hour getting started on her lines. She had more time than usual to complete them, but there were three hundred to do and it was a longer sentence. If she did some each night, that would probably be the best way to keep them to a very high standard. As usual, she did some experimenting and practicing first. The sentence took her on to a second line, but not far onto it, so there was space left. She thought it was a pity to waste it and she remembered Mr Clements saying she could decide on the details of the wording herself. It would be more to write but she deserved that and it would emphasise to Mr Clements how contrite she felt. What should she add? She did not want to add what he had obviously been going to say in his first attempt to compose a sentence. It was too explicit. It also reminded her of the problem that was most exercising her, namely that ‘one layer of clothing’ rule that Miss Carter had been rude about. Would he apply it to her?

Almost certainly, she thought. In which case, she wondered whether that one layer had to be her knickers, as it had been, she presumed, in Marilyn’s case. Might it be allowable for her to wear just a thin dress or skirt, with nothing underneath? Probably not. She hoped that having it done through just a petticoat might be an acceptable compromise. It would be just as little physical protection as knickers. She wouldn’t want Mr Clements to think she was trying to make it easier on herself. She wasn’t. However many strokes he gave her, and however hard they were, she knew it would only be what she deserved. She appreciated the dreadfulness of what she had done. But raising her dress or skirt to show her knickers seemed so immodest. And would he instruct her to do it, or would he do it himself? Either seemed awful, but especially the second possibility.

She tried to put the problem out of her mind. She would never be able to bring herself to raise the subject with him anyway. She would just have to accept whatever happened.

Meanwhile, her subconscious must have been working away on how best to lengthen the sentence because she quickly arrived at a solution. She tried: ‘I have done something very, very wrong and I must bend over for a beating with the long cane’. Yes, that would do nicely. She took a fresh sheet of paper and started writing.

Soon her worries and preoccupations had disappeared as she became absorbed in her task. She completed fifty lines, which, because they were double length, was equivalent to one hundred lines. It was much later than usual by the time she got to bed, but she was well satisfied with the progress she had made. She did not wake when her husband returned from his night’s drinking.

On the following Monday, she had a telephone call from the educational supplies company. “It’s about the order we’ve just got from you,” the woman the other end said. “There are some items we haven’t got in stock at the moment.”

Lucy was about to tell her just to send the rest of the items, as quickly as possible, when she thought to ask what the missing items would be.

“The punishment canes,” she was told.

Lucy’s heart sank.

“I tell you what though,” the woman went on. “You specified ‘curved handled’. Well, we’ve got straight ones of that length, if that would be any good. I should have thought they would do the job just as well.” There was a loud cackle at the other end of the line which degenerated into a smoker’s cough.

“Yes, yes please,” said Lucy eagerly, “Please change it to straight ones.”

“Are they required urgently then? Has someone been a very naughty boy, by any chance?” the woman asked roguishly.

She obviously hadn’t realised it was a girls’ school and Lucy was not about to enlighten her.

“It’s just,” the woman went on, “That I see you have specified first class delivery.”

“I believe there is someone awaiting punishment,” replied Lucy carefully.

“Awaiting punishment, eh? Well we mustn’t keep him waiting long, must we?  My, my, I’d love to be a fly on the wall!” There was another cackle and cough. “I tell you what I’ll do, dearie. The straight ones are cheaper than the ones with the handles, so for the difference I could do you express delivery. I know it’s not an option on the order form, but I can square it in the books somehow.”

“That is very kind of you,” said Lucy weakly.

“Not at all, dearie. We mustn’t keep naughty boys waiting for their just deserts, must we?! I’ll go straight along now and pack them up with the rest of your order and put it all in the post today. You should get them by tomorrow.”

Lucy thanked her very much and rang off as quickly as she could. She would have to finish her lines by tomorrow morning in that case. Luckily she had no commitments that evening and there were only forty left to do.

Sure enough, the parcel arrived next morning. Lucy went straight in to Mr Clements.

“They’ve arrived, headmaster,” she said.

“They?” he asked, raising a quizzical eyebrow.

“Yes, a batch of four is the minimum order.”

“Ah, of course. Report to me then, at eleven o’clock and we will get this business over with.”

“Yes headmaster. Shall I bring you the packet now so you can choose one?”

“No, choose one yourself and bring it with you. But you can bring me your lines now, if you have completed them. Then I will have time to check them.”

When she went back through with her sheets of completed lines, Mr Clements said as he took them from her: “You realise, I hope, that I intend to adjust your clothing before beating you.”

Lucy leapt at the opportunity. “Could it be my petticoat headmaster?” she asked. “I mean, the one layer of clothing that I am allowed.” She realised that he would probably guess now that she had been listening at the door, but she hardly cared any more. He might even know already. She plunged on. “Could the one layer of clothing that I’m allowed be my petticoat? I would take off… I mean there would not be anything underneath.”

“Yes, that will be perfectly acceptable,” he told her.

In a discreet corner of her office Lucy unpacked the order and identified a long slim package about three feet long, which she opened. There they were. They were very similar but not quite identical. One was slightly bent and another had an unsightly, irregular notch near one end, so she rejected both of those. She laid the remaining two side by side to look at them. Despite being so long compared to the one hanging in Mr Clements’ cupboard, they didn’t seem that much thicker. When she picked them up in turn and flexed them between her hands, she was sure that if she’d dared she could have bent them almost double. One was slightly darker than the other, but in terms of doing what they were designed to do, there was probably nothing to choose between them, so she simply asked herself which looked the more frightening. The answer was the slightly darker one, for some reason. ‘That is the one I deserve, then,’ she told herself. She kept that one out and put the three others away.

She went to the Ladies for the next stage in the proceedings, which was the removal of her knickers. She stuffed them into her handbag. Returning to her office, she sat down at her desk and looked at the clock. Twenty past ten. Forty minutes to go. She took out four letters that Mr Clements had written out for her to type up. He had given her a lot like that in the last week. He had never called her in for dictation since the day he had found her out. It was just one of the ways in which he had made it clear that he wanted as little to do with her as possible. Lucy hoped that that would change shortly after eleven o’clock, and that they would be able to get back to how things had been before. She began typing the first letter, hoping that he could hear her. She had finished it within ten minutes, including typing the address on the envelope. She turned to the next.

At five minutes to eleven she rose from her desk and locked the door that led from her office to the corridor. She took her pocket mirror from her handbag to check her hair and make-up, replaced it and put the handbag on her desk. She took off her shoes and placed those too on the desk, next to the handbag. Then she reached up her back, unzipped her dress and stepped out of it.

This was the solution which she had finally lit upon and she did not feel too uncomfortable about it. Much less uncomfortable, certainly, than leaving Mr Clements to pull up her dress. And being in a petticoat seemed quite modest compared with having your knickers exposed. She had seen several Hollywood films in which there was a scene with an actress in her petticoat. In fact it was almost routine in the romantic comedies she liked, to have such a scene, while she could not remember ever seeing a scene in which an actress’s knickers were revealed. Perhaps there were such films but they were not the sort that she went to. She gave it a downward tug and smoothed it with her hands.

She had chosen this petticoat because it was her longest. It was also, however, her tightest, which was especially unfortunate given that she was going to have to bend over in it. But it couldn’t be helped. She simply didn’t have a petticoat of anything like this length which was also loose. It had boiled down to a choice between long but tight versus loose but short. She was sure she had made the right decision.

She picked up the cane, walked through the connecting door into Mr Clements’ office and said: “I’ve come to be beaten, headmaster.”

Five minutes later, she was back in her office. She picked up dress, shoes and handbag, unlocked the door and checked the corridor both ways. Then she ran across to the Ladies. Once inside, with the door safely bolted, she clutched one hand behind her while she wiped at her flowing tears with the back of the other. She allowed herself to cry for a minute or two and then gradually brought herself under control. She looked at herself in the mirror above the sink. What a mess!  Red eyes, tear-stained face, make-up all running. She ran water into the sink and set about restoring her appearance.

It wasn’t long before she wanted to see what another part of her looked like. The question was how achieve it. The mirror in her handbag would be too small to see anything in, and the mirror above the sink was screwed to the wall. There was however a chair next to it. She pulled this out and stood on it, which brought her to just the right height. With her back to the mirror, she pulled up her petticoat and looked over her shoulder. She was able to count five distinct, livid welts. The paths of two or three of them crossed and one was a deeper shade of purple than the others and slightly wider, which would account for why she could only see five. She had had six strokes. She thought of the well-known saying, ‘Six of the best’. They certainly had been! Six of the very best, in fact. She had heard that expression too.

There was a jar of cream in her handbag but she decided not to use it. She deserved to be reminded of the very, very bad thing she had done. She brought one hand round and pressed experimentally against the stripes. Yes, it would definitely be sore to sit down. The chair in her office was upholstered and the seats on the bus were quite soft but when she got home she would make herself sit on one of her hard kitchen chairs. Also, the chair in Mr Clements’ office on which she sat when she took dictation (if that was to be a possibility again now) was just an ordinary wooden school chair.

Gently, with the tips of her fingers, she began to trace the path of one of the stripes. It was, like them all, impressively long. That must be due to a combination of the flexibility of the cane, allowing it to bend around the contours that it was struck against, and the force with which it had been applied. She had looked over her shoulder at one point and she remembered the stern, almost cruel, expression on Mr Clements’ face. You had to be cruel to be kind, she thought. That was it. She had richly deserved these stripes and it had been kind of him to inflict them on her because the alternative would have meant losing her job.

She was brought back to her senses with a jolt, by the sound of someone walking along the corridor. She shot a panicky look at the bolt on the door and reassured herself it was locked. But it had made her aware of how ridiculous her position was. She would have plenty of opportunity for looking in the mirror later, when she got home, and without the need to stand on a chair to do so. Meanwhile, she still had one of those four letters left to type. She must put her knickers and dress and shoes back on and make sure she no longer looked as though she had been crying.

Back in her office, with hair and make-up perfect once more, she started on the fourth letter, making enough noise with her typing so that Mr Clements would be sure to hear her next door.

Just before the lunch break, he came in and said: “I shall need you for dictation straight after lunch, Mrs Burford. Please ensure you are ready.”

“Yes headmaster.” She could not remember ever having said those words more happily.

The End

© Hilary Worthington 2018