A family argument gets out of hand

By Jane Fairweather

Easter 1930

Elizabeth took herself to the sitting room of the Smith-Jones’ house and sat bewildered in an armchair, wondering what on earth was going on in the study, and this went on for over an hour, during which time she got more and more worried for Priscilla. What if Priscilla was thrown out of this not unpleasant family and deprived of her allowance? Would it be all her fault? She thought back frantically over the events of the last couple of weeks.

****

“God, it will be good to be in the same bed again!” Priscilla said with some feeling as they waited at the local station for the motor train to her parents’ house.

Elizabeth tossed her fierce red hair; it was typical of Elizabeth that she was being thoroughly unladylike and not wearing a hat, Priscilla reflected, and said very tentatively, “You are sure your parents don’t mind us sleeping together?”

“Why should they?” Her lover asked dryly. “Best friends usually sleep together, just to gossip. I don’t think Mother even thought about it. I doubt if she has even thought about girls doing things together.”

“She put us in separate rooms and beds at Christmas.”

“Yes, but she did not bat an eyelid when I asked.”

“It’s been a rough term!” Elizabeth said thoughtfully. “I hated being in a dorm and you in your study, but it would have been too obvious if we had snuggled in together, wouldn’t it?”

“Still, we had some good times,” Priscilla observed.

“And I did not get the cane!” Said Elizabeth. “With the Ancient Mariner breathing down my neck all the time about getting my set books completely together, I really thought it was going to happen, but you had done just enough at Christmas to save my bacon. And for that, thanks, my love.”

Priscilla found herself being given a very gentle kiss on her cheek and a hug, which she scarcely disliked, though she felt it was a little public for such a display.

“That spanking from your Dad at Christmas really got you excited. I think a caning would have got you going even more.” Priscilla said, relieved there was no one on the platform to hear, but wanting to say it even so.

“And if you had managed to watch it like you did the spanking, we would both have had quite a time.” Elizabeth laughed.

“Well, pretending your bum is a pair of drums is almost as good.” Priscilla giggled in her turn, wondering why she so liked the feeling of Elizabeth’s flesh getting hotter.

“I wonder if we have had our last caning?” Elizabeth suddenly said very seriously.

“We ought to have. We are getting too old, surely!” Priscilla exclaimed. “Though that did not stop my father giving me those two very sound strokes for lying about the time you and I met. It was a horrible start to our last holidays. I don’t know why that really got to me, but it did. It was only two strokes after all.”

“You felt ashamed before it started.”

“Maybe so. I certainly don’t like being caught out lying. But I do have this weird, silly feeling I have one more real caning to come. It was rushing through my head at Christmas when you got spanked by your father. While you were yelling and kicking over his knee, I had the feeling I was going to find my knickers pointing at the ceiling, or even being taken down and that horrible cane in the basket in his study swishing down. I ought to have thought I was going to be spanked like you, but for some reason I didn’t.”

“You have an active imagination, my love, but it won’t happen.” Said Elizabeth firmly. “Certainly not at school; you are more or less a teacher now.”

“I am not sure I like being treated as cheap labour, though I suppose it is useful experience.” Priscilla remarked dryly, reflecting on her various struggles to teach junior forms French as a temporary replacement; it had been somewhat of an ordeal.

“You sound like a trade unionist!” Elizabeth giggled and Priscilla joined in

Their arguments over politics were milder than they had been when they had first known one another, Priscilla thought, but there was still a certain edge.

“Talking of trade unionists, I had a letter from Judith on the last day.” Elizabeth said, almost sheepishly.

“That Commie girl we met on one of our illicit walks at Christmas?” Priscilla snapped with more than a touch of jealousy.

At the time she had barely noticed Judith Mackie, but as Priscilla had got to know her lover, it had dawned on her that Judith’s nondescript face and untidy nondescript mousy hair had been part of Elizabeth’s life since elementary school; and while, as far as she knew, there was nothing physical, Judith had undoubtedly shared quite a lot of her lover’s life, that Priscilla would have liked to have shared herself.

“Don’t be jealous! You know you are my only love.” Said Elizabeth sensitively.

“Sorry!” Said Priscilla, still sounding miffed.

“Anyway, her Mum’s a bit better, though not wonderful, and her Dad has got a job in one of the shipyards at long last, despite his union work. My Dad had a word, apparently and she is very grateful.”

“Glad to hear it.” Said Priscilla, thinking that the next time they played that drum game the drum strokes might be just that bit harder, not that she really wanted to hurt Elizabeth.

At this point, the little motor train came in and the conversation on the empty platform more or less lapsed.

****

“That silly little man who wanders round in a loin cloth is still traipsing across India and everyone is getting very excited.” Priscilla’s father stated scornfully.

He was referring, of course, to Mohindas K Gandhi, the Indian Independence leader, Priscilla thought to herself rather properly. She liked Gandhi. If the British Empire had to have an enemy she would rather have one who was so obviously civilised and against violence; and this idea of walking across India and making everyone wait to see what happened at the end of the walk, was rather endearing. Totally useless of course! It should actually hold off independence for the sub-continent for a fair while, if the rebels’ main leader favoured such obviously silly methods of obtaining it.

“My Uncle has just made a speech saying the Indians must have Home Rule, or we shall end up with a bloody rebellion over there.” Elizabeth came out with, rather pompously.

“Well, young lady, we can give them Home Rule, if we want to lose the Empire.” Mr Smith-Jones answered equally pompously in his daughter’s opinion.

Priscilla realized, uncomfortably, that Elizabeth was close to her explosion point; and when Elizabeth exploded, the consequences were always close to dire. Half seriously, half fantasising, she imagined Elizabeth over a male knee kicking and wailing.

“Do we want an empire?” Elizabeth was saying fiercely. “It costs us money and the natives suffer from our not letting them rule themselves.”

“Want an Empire!!” Mr Smith-Jones irrupted. “Do you want to take the Great out of Great Britain, young lady?”

It was not really a question, Priscilla decided. But still Elizabeth and her father both seemed to be enjoying the argument, so she studiously stayed quiet as the two snarled backwards and forwards across the dinner table.

“Perhaps that is enough politics. I never understand them anyway. Perhaps we could stop and talk about something more civilised.” Mrs Smith-Jones was saying. “How is this bit of teaching going Priscilla? It is nice of them to let you try your hand at the school at teaching French; it shows a lot of confidence in you, I think. Are you tempted to take it up after Cambridge? Though I expect you will find a nice young man and settle down. Most girls do, it seems to me; and it is much easier than struggling along working in the modern world, where men have it all their own way. At least unless there is a real war on. I drove a bus in the Great War and rather enjoyed it. Not that I would want to do it all my life.”

“It chiefly convinced me that I do not want to be a teacher. I am not much good at discipline, if the truth be known. No, I think I shall go for the Civil Service. It seems to be possible for a woman to have a real career there.” Priscilla stated, suddenly crystallising what had been accumulating in her head for a number of weeks.

“You really don’t want to be a pen pusher.” Her father announced. “You would be much happier using your French and Latin in some quiet girls school, Priscilla. And you are very attractive. Sooner or later some nice man will come along.”

“I don’t think girls are any easier than boys to teach.” Said Elizabeth, joining in vigorously. “You should see some of the goings-on at our school. I suppose I am a girl myself and should not say it, but you should see some of the things that our girls get up to. And we have the cane, which an awful of lot of girls schools just don’t. Girls can be so sly, apart from anything else.”

“Certainly, Priscilla seemed to benefit from that little caning she had at Christmas.” Mr Smith-Jones stated. “I notice big changes for the better in my daughter. Perhaps girls ought to get it more.”

Priscilla blushed wildly and wished she was anywhere else, then reflected that possibly her friendship with Elizabeth was responsible for her being more grown-up, if she was more grown-up, but she did not like to say it.

“But I think Elizabeth should take a little credit.” Mr Smith-Jones added thoughtfully, echoing his daughter’s thoughts. “I do think Elizabeth has been a very good influence on our daughter. And despite, or perhaps because of, her politics. Not that I don’t enjoy a good argument. And Elizabeth has the considerable merit of being very well-informed, even when I don’t agree with her.”

It would have been obvious to anyone with half an eye that Mrs Smith Jones was ever so slightly put out by this speech, but she did not actually say anything.

****

“I think Daddy, at least, has accepted you.” Priscilla said very soberly that night, slipping her fingers inside her lover’s pyjamas, though she felt quite jealous at the thought that her father’s obvious liking for Elizabeth might have excited her lover. It was, however, the beginning of a most interesting hour which ended with the two girls naked and lying in one another’s arms very quietly.

“You don’t think he would cane you again?” Elizabeth suddenly asked. “He sounded altogether too keen on it to me. And you really are getting too old for it.”

“Possibly if he caught me doing this with you, though in reality he would almost certainly throw us both out of the house and tell us never to darken his doorstep again, judging by the things he says about men who are like us.” Priscilla said, half afraid, but not sure that the fear was justified. “But still, it is unlikely he will ever get beyond thinking we like a good gossip in bed together, and I have no desire to give up doing this at all. I really enjoyed that.”

“So did I. But I had the feeling he really wants to cane you again. I bet you five bob it happens before the end of this holiday; it’s his last chance before you leave school. And no one gets caned after they leave school.”

“Don’t be silly!” Said Priscilla, aiming a gentle slap at her lover’s behind, and enjoying the feel of it. “That won’t happen. Mother would not let it. I don’t think she was too pleased about the first one. Not that she ever really stands up to Daddy. But I will take your five shillings, my girl, if you really want to lose it.”

“Done!” Elizabeth giggled, after which they did the whole thing over again and then fell into a deep sleep.

****

To give Mr Smith-Jones his due, he was genuinely fond of his children, even though he disciplined them hard from time to time and he had taken the trouble to take a full ten days of his work so he could be there while Priscilla and her friend stayed, for now his boys had all left home, he was very glad to have Priscilla bubbling round the house with her very alive friend, and he was not all that happy with his wife.

He found said friend both very attractive and very disturbing. Her views on the Empire and the need to give it up at were at once very hard to take and oddly compelling. And similarly with her anger at the poverty of the working class in the Depression, which he shared a little bit, though living in the South, where there was much less unemployment, he always thought that the problem in the North was exaggerated.

And then there was the sheer attractiveness of a young woman who was far more self- assured than the dithery young creatures that Mr Smith-Jones was used to. He wondered if it came in part from Elizabeth’s going to a school where the discipline was genuinely firm. He was much too well brought up to actually do anything about it, but he did find himself fantasising constantly about caning this luscious rebellious creature.

But things are never simple, and these fantasies put Mr Smith-Jones in a mood that to some extent reacted on his normally very quiescent wife, who seemed to become a touch more self-assertive in the presence of a rival than he was used to, which irritated him. Could the stupid woman not see that his intentions towards Elizabeth were entirely honourable?

Not that his wife ever put it like that; it was rather that she kept pointing out very bitchily when she was alone with her husband that Elizabeth, in her view, was not a good influence on their daughter beyond a certain point; and the friendship should be discouraged beyond a certain point. It was not good that that on the first Sunday of Elizabeth’s visit, and Easter Sunday at that, she had declined to go to church on grounds of conscience.

“You threatened to cane your son for refusing to go to church on one occasion, and I think it was very salutary. It made him understand that it is an important matter.” Mrs Smith-Jones fulminated.

“I can scarcely cane a guest, dear, even if I wanted to. She is entitled to follow her family’s views on religion, even if they are a touch odd.” Mr Smith-Jones said very firmly.

“And what if she starts leading our daughter away from the True Faith; that would be quite dreadful.” Mrs Smith-Jones snarled, who was genuinely devoted to the Anglican faith and had already been annoyed by various approving references to Gandhi’s Hinduism, as if that religion was not Pagan and an abomination.

“Oh, Priscilla has a mind of her own; one of the reasons she and Elizabeth are such friends is that they have such different views and it gives them something to argue about.”

“But what if this is the one thing that they agree on?”

“Well, it has not happened yet. I will deal with it if it does.” Mr Smith Jones wearily replied.

He found himself wondering if he was going to end up caning his daughter for the second time, and feeling rather appalled at the prospect; and yet he rather perversely thought that punishing his daughter’s friend would be very interesting. Elizabeth’s bottom was very beautiful and arguably her most attractive feature.

And then there was the constant worry about the Stock Markets. Neither London nor New York had seen a total recovery from the crash of the previous year. Mr Smith-Jones was an optimist in such matters and genuinely good at his speculations, but he nevertheless suffered from a constant feeling of walking in an area of crevasses, such as the Antarctic explorers had come across from time to time, with the possibility of suddenly falling down one.

At all events this combination of pressures made Mr Smith-Jones aware that he was heading towards an explosion, which nevertheless he devoutly hoped that a civilised, educated man like himself could evade altogether.

****

“I hate Church on Sunday. It is so dull and it wastes so much time.” Priscilla said rebelliously.

“Well, why not just say you don’t want to go?” Elizabeth replied. “They can’t make you.”

“It would worry Mummy to death. She believes so deeply in these things. And Daddy thinks it is one of the cements of the Social order.”

“The crooks of Capitalism, in other words!” Elizabeth snapped. “Anyway, they would not do much if you did not go to the Sunday service.”

“Tom was told pretty bluntly he could give up going, if he was prepared to take a sound caning as proof that he really meant it. He backed down, of course; you don’t risk the cane from Daddy unless there is no choice; he is so horribly good at it. And now Tom goes meticulously to Church every week as if he had never rebelled, and even seems to like it, even though he has left home. It is a touch comic really.”

“But you are nearly out of school. He surely would not even think of caning you.” Elizabeth said, sounding more than a little puzzled.

“You are forgetting Church is one of the few things Mummy really cares about. I could just imagine her backing a caning over that. She would see it as unreasonable defiance and just wrong. A very serious matter indeed.”

“You’ve been caned before. Anyway, you could always refuse to take the caning.”

“And get thrown out of the house and lose my allowance and quite probably not be able to go to Cambridge. I really think they would do that. Anyway, I don’t see why I should get caned just so you can win your bet, my love.”

“Neither do I, but honestly I think you are exaggerating.”

****

And so the matter might well have ended. But the following Sunday morning at breakfast Mrs Smith-Jones was in a foul temper. She was just fed up with the constant admiring glances that her husband kept giving their guest; and she was equally annoyed by the constant stream of intelligent chatter from Elizabeth, which she often did not understand, and the constant attention paid to it by her husband and daughter.

“I do hope you are going to be the dutiful guest and come to Church with us, and do your Social duty at least once, Elizabeth, before you both head back to school tomorrow.” Mrs Smith-Jones stated very sternly and quite out of the blue.

“Really, no thank you, Mrs Smith-Jones!” Elizabeth replied as politely as she could. “It is not that I want to be rude, but I really don’t believe in Christ as opposed to God and I don’t like organised religion.”

“What a heretic you are, what a pagan!” Mrs Smith-Jones exclaimed, now thoroughly aroused.

“Really dear!” Said Mr Smith-Jones, soothingly.

“Anyway, Priscilla dear, you had better go and get yourself ready for church; we are running short of time.”

“I am not going. I don’t believe in any of it. I don’t even believe in God.” Priscilla said, who was suddenly as angry as her Mother.

“Priscilla, I really think that is no way to speak to your Mother, quite apart from which in this family we go to church, full stop. I think we had better discuss this in my study. Come on, young lady, now!”

The tensions that had been building in Mr Smith-Jones for several weeks suddenly exploded and made his reaction much more dramatic than it might otherwise have been.

Elizabeth sat very bewildered as her friend was seized by the arm and marched in the direction of her father’s study.

“Oh dear, I did not mean this to happen. I should watch what I say. I don’t always mean what I say. I am so sorry, Elizabeth.” Mrs Smith-Jones was saying, with tears in her eyes, bewildering Elizabeth even more.

“I am sure you didn’t mean anything much.” Elizabeth replied, feeling very embarrassed.

“I must get myself to church. I only hope people don’t start asking where my husband and daughter are. I do hope he does not cane her. She was so upset the first time.”

And then Mrs Smith-Jones was abruptly departing in a great flap.

Elizabeth took herself to the sitting room and sat bewildered in an armchair, wondering what on earth was going on in the study, and this went on for over an hour, during which time she got more and more worried for Priscilla. What if Priscilla was thrown out of this not unpleasant family and deprived of her allowance? Would it be all her fault?

****

“I do not believe in God and that is it. I am NOT going to church ever again.” Priscilla stated with real anger. “I wish you would just stop making me go round the whole thing in circles and circles and circles. And moreover, I am not going to apologise to Mother. She was the one who started it.”

“Well, I have given you every opportunity to recant. I have argued with you in every way I can to make you see how important the Christian religion is; AND I have given you every opportunity to apologise to your mother. I am reluctant to punish you, not least because I think you have not really thought through what you are saying, but you have left me with no choice. Have you anything to say?”

“No. Could we just get it over with please.” Priscilla said, suddenly feeling quite frightened, but equally determined not to give in.

“Well, you know the form. Take your skirt off, put your hands on the side of the armchair and stick your bottom out. And hold on tight; you are going to need it. There will be extra strokes if you make any undue fuss.”

“I won’t have to go to church again, will I?” Priscilla asked, fiddling with the buttons on her skirt, which were giving her more difficulty than normal.

“Not unless you want to. And you can pull your petticoat above your waist before you bend over, for that little bit of insolence.”

She had not been expecting that. Still, her knickers were reasonably solid, she thought rather hopefully as she pulled the blue petticoat above her waist.

She reached across and put her hands on the side of the armchair, feeling quite defiant but trembling just a little and also embarrassed as she felt her knickers tighten; how much was she showing, she wondered.

“This is quite ridiculous. I should not be having to cane you for the second time in a few months, at your age.” Mr Smith-Jones said as he indulged in some practice swishes that sent his daughter’s heart beat up considerably.

“Right, five strokes. Are you ready?”

“Yes, just about, father.”

Swish went the cane, and it stung horribly. She let out a rather strange noise.

The cane swished again, and she let out an even odder noise

“Keep still, you are wriggling.”

She realized she was lifting her legs up and down, and stopped herself by a real effort of will, thinking of that threat of extra strokes.

The third neatly crossed the first two and she really wailed and felt the tears flowing in floods. For some reason, this had not happened during the first two strokes.

The fourth and fifth followed rapidly and caught the underside of her bottom and hurt if it was possible even more.

“Now this episode is closed. You can go when you want.” She could hear somewhere in the distance.

She determinedly pulled her petticoat down and somehow struggled back into her skirt, which mercifully was not too tight.

“Incidentally, I don’t blame Elizabeth at all for any of this. I think she is very good for you. For goodness sake hang on to her.” He was saying to her, though it seemed as if the words were being spoken in a dream.

“Thank you. I will tell her that.” She managed to say as she staggered out of the door.

It was then that it struck Priscilla she was going to Cambridge in October and Elizabeth had two more years of school, in all probability.

The End

© Jane Fairweather 2020

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