A troublemaker needs to be dealt with
By Jane Fairweather
Judith Alexandra Plumstead-Jones was inevitably known to everyone as ‘Plum’, so much so that she had all but forgotten that her real name was Judith. Hazel Markstead School, where she was now a Senior pupil in the year of our lord, Nineteen Hundred and ten, was a small boarding school of no academic pretensions whatsoever and precious few other ones, except to teach writing, reading, arithmetic, cookery and some needlework, and generally provide a basic education for girls, including some attention to manners. There was a little hockey and tennis for girls who wanted such refinements, but it could scarcely be said that girls were overly encouraged to engage in physical exercise.
Plum politely ignored such demands on her time, being far too busy sucking lollipops and reading the fab school stories of Angela Brazil. Discipline was, to say the least, rather relaxed. Classes had a tendency to take the form of conversations, which were by no means always with the teacher.
But then the governors, in their wisdom, decided the school needed to be improved a little, and when the ageing Miss Whitworth, whose chief merit was that she allowed everyone else to do what they wanted, departed for reasons of health, just before the Easter Holiday, they appointed the young and vigorous Miss Smith. Miss Smith started her first Assembly with the rather ominous statement that she was in favour of firm, but fair, discipline. Nobody, of course, took much notice of it at the time, least of all Plum and her friends, and things went on much as before.
But then came the Autumn term. An actual games mistress had been appointed and games ceased to be voluntary. Said Games Mistress had every girl in the school out playing hockey in all weathers.
Plum did what girls in such situations usually do. She pretended to various sore throats and pulled muscles, and other ailments; and on a couple of occasions when she felt she had used her excuses rather a lot she appeared on the field of play and did as little as she humanly could.
Nor was she alone. Some, perhaps even a majority, of the older girls found they enjoyed hockey after all, but Antonia, Liz, Mary and Isabel, who were the other members of Plum’s gang followed Plum’s lead.
Miss Fowler, the new Games mistress, was a patient woman and she took things slowly at first, gathering those of Plum’s little gang who were actually present at the end of each Games lesson and telling them that she was sure they would enjoy it in time.
However, the replies were distinctly non-committal and consisted of the girls saying, “They supposed so,” or, “They would try and join in next time.”
Miss Fowler, who was nobody’s fool, noticed each time that Plum actually made herself available it was her that did all the talking on behalf of the group. Miss Fowler noted Plum’s plump bottom and thought there was something very tempting about it. After all, she had endured quite a lot of corporal punishment both at home and school and she could see no reason why Miss Plumstead-Jones and her friends should be immune.
Still, said another voice in her head, corporal punishment for girls was increasingly being regarded as out of date, and Miss Smith, who was nothing if not up to date, might well not approve.
When, by the sixth week, she found her gentle urgings were blithely ignored, Miss Fowler handed out fifty lines to all five girls, present and not present, ‘Exercise is good for my health and I must attend games lessons’ to be handed in to the Staff Room first thing the next morning.
The lines were done, partly at least because the girls were ever so slightly afraid of a visit to Miss Smith and her talk of ‘firm but fair discipline’ and they were not quite sure if that meant the cane, or not. However, as Miss Fowler realized as soon as she saw them, the lines had been scrawled in the greatest of hurry and Plum had even got what looked like a drip from a red lollipop on her effort.
The Games Mistress frowned, but decided it was not quite enough to send these five horrors to the headmistress, at least not yet.
The second week, she handed out two hundred lines, saying that she was going to go on till she won. The girls were much more sullen than on the first occasion and looked decidedly defiant, but again the lines were done, if very badly. This time, Miss Fowler noticed Plum’s lollipop appeared to have been yellow.
The Games Mistress spent several fairly sleepless nights, wondering if there was any point in handing out 400 lines if the girls behaved the same at their next hockey period, or whether she should talk to the headmistress. In her heart of hearts she did not want to get the little gang into serious trouble, but on the other hand she felt it was a fight that she had to win.
In the end, she went and stood outside Miss Smith’s office, sacrificing her first free period of the day to do it. She found herself waiting longer than she would have liked; Miss Cartwright, who was supposed to know more about Maths than just Arithmetic was having a long chat with the Head. Miss Fowler wondered if Miss Cartwright was having similar problems to herself; the revolution in the nature of the school that Miss Smith was attempting was by no means an easy one.
With only half the free period left, the buxom Miss Cartwright emerged in her austere white blouse and grey skirt. Miss Fowler, however, noticed with a certain pleasure the flowing black hair over the shoulders; Miss Cartwright had a certain style, she decided. They exchanged polite smiles and Miss Fowler, for one, decided she would like to be Miss Cartwright’s friend and she would work on it.
Then Miss Smith was ushering her in and sitting her down in front of her desk.
Miss Fowler was just wondering how to begin when the headmistress said, “I do hope that you are not having similar problems to Miss Cartwright. She has been having real problems with getting some actually rather bright Senior girls to take any notice of Geometry and Algebra, and they, I am sorry to say, have been making it difficult for the other girls to learn.”
“You have taken the words out of my mouth!” Miss Fowler exclaimed with real relief. “I have a group of five seniors who flatly refuse to do hockey. They either invent an excuse not to do it, such as a sore throat or a pulled muscle, or they turn up and do nothing. I have tried talking nicely, I have tried fifty lines and two hundred lines, and the only effect is to make them more sullen. I am at my wits end, Miss Smith.”
The headmistress half smiled and said, “It is curious there are five girls that each of you are having trouble with. Who are your miscreants?”
Miss Fowler hesitated, afraid she was going to get a name wrong, then half muttered, “Antonia Grey, Elizabeth Michaelson, Mary Appleyard, Isabel Allen and Judith Plumstead-Jones.”
“Really, Miss Fowler, you should be capable of not muttering at your age. Perhaps you would be kind enough to repeat yourself and go a little slower this time.”
Miss Fowler realized the head was ticking a list, which clearly Miss Cartwright had given her.
“Yes,” the head proclaimed after a brief pause, “Exactly the same gang as Miss Cartwright has been having trouble with, though there seem to be a couple of hangers-on in her case. I think we shall have to do something fairly dramatic, as much as a sign of the way this school is now going to go as anything. Is it your view that Judith Plumstead-Jones is the ring leader?”
“Yes, though she is a nice enough girl and I am sure she has real qualities.” Miss Fowler said nervously, feeling she would never quite forgive herself if Judith was expelled.
“Well, Judith certainly seems to have behaved very badly and rudely to Miss Cartwright, who I suspect would have her strung up from the nearest tree, if that option was available. However, such solutions are perhaps luckily not available to headmistresses.” Miss Smith stated with a very chilly half smile, then added, “The question is whether I should expel her. Do you have a view on that?”
Miss Fowler did not like being asked that question at all, but in the end said, “I do think Judith needs pulling up very hard indeed, but I am not sure about her being expelled.”
“Well, I suppose I could try a lecture, which can work quite well, but everything I have heard about Miss Plumstead-Jones suggests it would be water over a duck’s back. I think I am going to have to think seriously about expulsion.”
“But Miss Smith, could we not at least try corporal punishment?” Miss Fowler said with a desperation she herself found surprising.
“Well, I punished a number of girls during my last appointment, but more and more of my fellow headmistresses disapprove; and there is an odd and growing tendency to believe that what is normal for a boy is cruel to a girl. But maybe as a one off to set the tone of my time as headmistress it would be worth it. Alright, Miss Plumstead-Jones will present that plump bottom of hers for a very sound punishment. But what about the others in her gang? Just a lecture, do you think?”
“I would resent it, if I was Judith, I think.” Said Miss Fowler, wondering just why she was sticking up for Judith. “And the school would probably think it was unfair if one girl was whipped and the others got off with a lecture, which would not help me or Miss Cartwright.”
“Yes, you are right.” Miss Smith declared decisively. “Alright, we will have the five miscreants
along here at six o’clock. That will give them a little time to think. You and Miss Cartwright can have the pleasure of witnessing the punishments and if necessary assisting; there is almost bound to be one girl at least who makes a fuss.”
Miss Fowler wondered if she dared say that she would much rather not be present or assist. Her own punishments had always taken place in private, both at home and at school. But before she could say this, she was being bundled out of the door and the headmistress was calling out to her secretary that she would like to have a further word with Miss Cartwright and would she go and fetch her?
The staff room at afternoon tea time was always an odd place. Miss Fowler, who was young and more than a touch shy, invariably tried to join a conversation, or listen to one, but found, equally invariably, that she was more or less ignored by the older staff. On this occasion, to her relief, she found Miss Cartwright sidling up to her, cup of tea in hand.
“I gather you have been having the same trouble I have,” the voice was saying from under that flowing mass of black hair.
An attractive voice, she thought, as she answered, “Yes, Judith Plumstead-Jones and her pals. God, they are a pain, Miss Cartwright.”
“Oh do call me Anne,” the suave voice replied. “And you are?”
“Oh, very plain Susan, I am afraid.”
Susan Fowler realized this was the first time since she had entered this school that anyone had wanted to use her Christian name.
“I am all in favour of their getting what for, but I am not sure about having to watch,” said Anne Cartwright.
“Well, it won’t be quite nice, but I am pretty sure that, as the head said, a couple of them won’t be very keen on taking their punishment, so I suppose she does need us.” Susan Fowler said, and she added with a quiet chuckle, “I suppose I should not say it, but I am quite looking forward to seeing our Judith Plumstead-Jones having that plump behind of hers well whipped, though in many ways I would not mind if the others got off.”
“Well, maybe I should not admit it either, but our Miss Plumstead-Jones bent right over for six of the very best will be nothing if not gratifying. That girl has been making my life hell for weeks,” Anne Cartwright giggled. “Anyway, it will be a new experience. I never had the cane and I don’t suppose you did either, or seen anyone caned. There is a certain awful mystery about it all, I think; and I am quite glad of the chance to see through the veil, even though it won’t be that nice.”
“Oh, I had it a couple of times. They sent me to quite a tough school. I had one on each hand and three on my knickers for flicking ink pellets at Miss Martin. And one on each hand for not handing some work in.”
“Did it work?”
“Yes, within limits.” Susan said, wondering what had happened to that exuberant naughty schoolgirl. She felt so shy and afraid of the world now.
“Well, let’s hope it does on this occasion. Otherwise, our poor girls will go through all this pain and then still be expelled anyway because they have not reformed.” Anne remarked. “See you at six. I’ve got 3B.”
“Yes, I must go. See you then.” Susan Fowler said, and then walked out of the room with a slight trip in her step.
Had she made a friend, she wondered; it would be nice if she had.
As it happened, she met Anne heading towards the Headmistress’s study at five to six, and they walked together.
“I feel almost as nervous as the girls must be,” Anne observed. “I really hope I am not going to have to hold someone. But I expect you are used to this sort of thing.”
“No, I am not that used to it. Apart from anything else, it is more or less ten years since I flicked those ink pellets. I should have known better than to do it to Miss Martin. She really did have eyes in the back of her head.”
“Oh well, you at least will know what it feels like!”
Outside the Headmistress’s door, they found five disconsolate girls. Antonia Grey had more or less dry eyes, but was looking shaky. Isabel Allen and Mary Michaelson very obviously had been crying, and Mary Appleyard still was. Only Judith was looking reasonably in control of herself.
Susan determinedly led the way past, hoping Anne would follow and have the sense not to get caught up in a conversation with the girls.
It seemed reasonable in the circumstances to knock and go straight into the head’s study, though she half expected to be sworn at. However, mercifully there was no complaint from the headmistress about the two mistresses entering without waiting for her to open the door. Miss Smith was standing behind her desk.
On it, Susan noted, there were three canes. A short whippy one of the sort that had been used on Junior girls’ hands at her own school, and two rather bigger ones. Both were perhaps of around three feet and looked as if they had been well oiled. She remembered Miss Angel’s big stick had also been well oiled when she had administered those three very painful whacks on the seat of tightly stretched knickers for flicking pellets at Miss Martin. She remembered her own voice making some very odd noises during the beating, and the sheer embarrassment of feeling those knickers stretch and realizing you were showing everything. Oddly, she remembered the hand caning part of the punishment much less clearly, though it had stung horribly.
“Well, everyone is here in good time, at least,” Miss Smith said with just a touch of hysteria in her voice, Susan thought. “And I have already spoken to the girls at some length. They fully understand what they have done and what is going to happen, so hopefully they will co-operate.”
Susan noticed the chair that normally lived at the front or side of the headmistress’s desk had been pulled out further into the room than normal. Presumably the girls were going to bend over the back of it. She remembered the rail sticking into her stomach and her skirts being taken up. She had not really wanted to hold the chair because her hands were still stinging, but she had done it because she thought otherwise she might make a fuss, which would make it worse.
She realized that the headmistress was walking over to the door to admit the first culprit. Miss Smith had been going on about not doing anything unless the victim refused to co-operate, hadn’t she? Susan glanced at Anne out of the corner of her eye and rather absurdly winked. Anne winked back and grinned.
Mary Michaelson’s tall body, with its red hair in pigtails and more than a little moisture in her eyes, was turning towards the two young mistresses.
“I really am sorry, Miss Cartwright, for messing up your lessons, and to you, Miss Fowler, for being so awkward about hockey.”
The girl said this very shakily, which presumably was what she had been told to say, Susan thought sardonically. However, she murmured that she accepted the apology. Anne Cartwright accepted it rather more loudly. Susan wondered what the real value of an apology was, given that it was under threat of expulsion.
“Now, girl, remove your gymslip and put it on my desk.” Miss Smith was saying.
Mary shakily complied and the sobbing grew slightly louder. Susan noticed the girl’s rust red knickers, which looked as if they had been dyed, went luridly with the flaming hair.
“Now, bend over the back of the chair.”
Mary complied and her small bottom at the top of very long legs rose into the air.
That bottom, Susan thought to herself, was so small as to be almost non-existent. She wondered how many strokes that small area of flesh was going to have to endure.
Rather to Susan’s relief, Miss Smith selected the smaller cane. She swished it about a number of times before tapping the middle of Mary’s bottom three times to a rising crescendo of pleading.
“Please don’t cane me, Miss. I won’t do it again.”
But the cane swished from a height with a neat twist of the wrist and bit deep into the middle of those two small cheeks, and Mary howled at the top of her voice.
There was a distinct pause, during which Mary could be heard crying her eyes out, and then the second and third descended in rapid succession, and Mary got even more hysterical, lifting both her legs up.
“Stop making such a fuss, girl. Only one more stroke, if you stay still.” The head was saying.
Mary, after a brief second, stopped kicking. The cane swished one last time, not into the buttocks this time, but into the top of the thighs. Mary gave a shriek to end all shrieks and jumped up and clutched her bottom.
Susan remembered her own third stroke had hit that horribly sensitive area as well and left by far the worst of her bruises. She found herself feeling a good deal of sympathy for Mary, perhaps more than she deserved.
Then Mary was being told that she could go and was staggering out of the door, having put her gymslip back on.
Susan glanced at Anne, who was grimacing, or was she grinning? She found it hard to know.
Then Antonia was being ushered in. Susan noticed immediately that the girl who had not been crying in the corridor was looking distinctly unrepentant, and it was hard not to notice the flash of anger on Anne Cartwright’s face. There was clearly something between her new friend and this girl that she did not know about.
“You will say a particular apology to Miss Cartwright for your insolence to her and your failure to write the lines that she gave you. And Miss Fowler as well, of course.” The head was saying very firmly.
“I didn’t really mean it, Miss. I am sorry. And if I have to have lines again I will do them,” the girl was saying and still sounding not wholly repentant, or so it seemed to Susan.
“I accept your apology,” Anne was saying, also sounding as if she did not quite mean it either.
And then the girl was apologising to Miss Fowler as well, almost as an after-thought.
Then there was the rather weary ritual of the removal of the gymslip and the bending over the back of the chair. Susan noted the altogether shorter body and the rather fuller buttocks and the fairly short, mousy coloured hair. Four strokes with one of the larger canes followed. The girl took it in something approaching silence, but Susan could not help feeling that it must be hurting and bruising a great deal. She noticed that although the legs were staying still the bottom was writhing up and down. Antonia would definitely need some cream, she decided, as the girl exited rather haughtily, despite her obvious discomfort.
“Satisfied?” Susan asked Anne in a whisper.
“Oh, very much, though I would not have minded seeing her marks.” Anne whispered back very fiercely. “She is a cow, that girl!”
If Miss Smith heard this rather unladylike exchange, she did not choose to say anything, but ushered in Isabel Allen.
Isabel was small and petite and auburn haired, and panicked at the sight of the cane. She would have run out again, but the two mistresses grabbed her.
“Hold her over the desk!” Miss Smith commanded.
Susan could feel the girl’s angst through her arm as she held it while the gymslip was pulled up and then the waves of pain as the larger cane swished into what must have been quite a small bottom four times and there was a lot of shrieking.
“Stupid girl! She would have got off with three with the smaller cane if she had had the sense to co-operate.” Miss Smith said wearily. “As it is, she will not sit down for a while. It is partly my fault; I should have had her in first. I did not like doing it; she is a softer creature than the rest. It is really a bit hard she should end up with the same as that awful girl Antonia!”
Susan thought so too, but she did not say so.
Then it was the very solid Mary Appleyard, with her auburn hair, who would have been very difficult to deal with if she had made a fuss. Susan suspected she was a farmer’s daughter, though she did not really know. Certainly, the muscles of her bottom were fairly solid and it seemed at least possible that she rode a lot. Her rather stylish green knickers looked thinner than the other girls for some reason and stretched extremely tight. Like her predecessor, she had four with the larger cane. Mary wept a good deal but stayed stolidly in position and did not cry out or plead.
The three women paused by unspoken consent.
“Now we had better deal with Miss Plumstead-Jones, who is the ring leader.” The headmistress said. “She is going to have six as hard as I can give them. I would not be at all surprised if she has to be held.”
However, Plum came through the door looking something close to nonchalant, gave the expected apology, took off and folded her gymslip and put it on the desk without being told to. Susan noted her enemy’s rather loose serge knickers. They were not going to stretch as tightly as several of the other girls’, which she thought in an odd way was a matter for regret.
“Do I have to bend over the chair, Miss?”
“Yes, of course you do, you stupid girl!”
Susan concluded that if Judith had deliberately wanted to rile Miss Smith, she could scarcely have done it better.
The victim walked to the chair, visibly paused, and took a breath, then very deliberately bent over it, exposing her plump bottom to punishment. Susan, in spite of herself, felt for Judith at that moment.
“Right, Miss Plumstead-Jones, you are going to have six of the very best, and I expect you to take it with a minimum of fuss.”
“Yes, Miss Smith.”
The headmistress did not bother with any preliminary swishing or gaps between the strokes, but administered the punishment with great force, very rapidly. Judith bellowed at the top of her voice and stayed slumped over the chair for some while after the punishment, weeping her eyes out. The three women left her to it. Then she seemed to gradually come to and stood up and began feeling inside her knickers with her hands.
“God, that hurt.” She suddenly said. “I really have been bad, haven’t I? To deserve anything so painful. I am sorry, Miss Smith.”
Then she limped to her gymslip, put it back on and asked permission to go, which was granted.
The outcome was slightly odd and various.
Isabel’s parents took her away from the school almost immediately and made various complaints to both the governors and the Police, which caused Miss Smith more than a little worry, but ended in the complaints being rejected. Miss Smith, in consequence, rarely used the cane again, though paradoxically the fact that she had used it so severely, made its further use much less necessary.
The other girls and their parents seemed to take the punishment in their stride and more or less accepted the new way of things.
Anne and Susan became, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, very good friends, and perhaps more often than was altogether nice would retell the events of that afternoon for the benefit of their friends.
And as to Plum, for her remaining year in the school she was, if not a reformed character, at any rate a much more cautious one. She left the following Summer and married rather young, after going through a number of boyfriends. She found, almost without exception, they liked the idea of her being one of the few girls to have really had six of the very best. And rather like Anne and Susan, she remembered the events of that afternoon with a certain ambiguous pleasure and would periodically tell the story well into her old age.
© Jane Fairweather 2020
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