A retired headmistress finds it hard to abandon her old lifestyle

By Sally Cavendish

Miss Harriet Stevenson, lately headmistress of a girls’ school in south-east London and now the sole proprietor of a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Kent, did not really miss her days in the teaching profession. It was a stressful job and it had taken its toll. Long before she taught her last history class, she was conscious of having been round the same educational block too many times. In modern parlance, she was the victim of burn-out.

When one of her former pupils came to visit her, she was always glad to see them and talk about the good old days over a cup of tea. She even gave them a 25 per cent discount on her standard B & B rates. But she did not, if she was honest, regret taking early retirement at the age of just 57. It had been time to move on.

What she did miss, with a sense of yearning which took her by surprise, was the thrill of administering corporal punishment. Bringing a strap lashing down on a girl’s hand and seeing the tears well up in the girl’s eyes. Taking a sturdy leather slipper to a tautly presented bottom, clad in blue school knickers. And, most of all, deploying the most feared implement in her arsenal; the cane. The familiar swish-thwack of a rattan cane landing on a bare female bottom. The inevitable gasp of pain from the poor miscreant bent over the desk. The livid red tramlines that appeared within seconds. Then more of the same, swish-thwack, swish-thwack, until the magic number six had been reached.

What imperishable memories! If only someone had been there to record those canings on camera! It would have been a souvenir to trump the most lavish leaving present. Just water under the bridge now, of course. Unless…

What Miss Stevenson did next would strike most people today as plain bonkers. But to a headmistress of the 1950s, the golden age of corporal punishment, it made perfect sense. As Miss Stevenson saw it, if she could no longer chastise schoolgirls, there was nothing stopping her chastising adults. She was not prepared to become one of the professional ‘headmistresses’ she had read about. That felt like a step too far. But she saw no reason why she should not extend the sound disciplinary principles of an old-fashioned English boarding school to a B & B in Kent.

Hence the printed sign that she displayed prominently in her three guest bedrooms: BAD LANGUAGE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED AND WILL BE PUNISHED BY SIX OF THE BEST. Guests saw it and boggled. They asked her to explain it. She explained it. They asked if she seriously intended to cane guests who used bad language. She said that was exactly what she intended to do and, if guests were not prepared to accept her house rules, they should stay at some more conventional establishment and swear to their hearts’ content.

At this point, some guests simply took their leave, put off by the sheer eccentricity of what was being proposed. Others dithered, then decided to stick to the house rules, meticulously avoiding words that might be regarded as rude and inappropriate by their formidable landlady. Still others stretched, or even deliberately bent, the rules. They were playing with fire, and they knew it, but perhaps they were secretly drawn towards the flame. Miss Stevenson was not interested in such psychological conundrums. She had laid down rules. She must apply those rules. That was all that mattered.

And it was not too long before she had to put her precepts into practice. A middle-aged travelling salesman from the Midlands, having had the house rules explained to him, and said he was happy to abide by them, was foolish enough, on tripping over Miss Stevenson’s cat, to mutter: “Bugger!” No sooner had the word passed his lips, and he saw the look of disgust on his landlady’s face; he knew his fate was sealed.

Five minutes later, having been asked to drop his trousers and underpants, he was receiving a stinging caning that brought back unhappy memories of his schooldays. Miss Stevenson, he reflected ruefully, as he rubbed his bottom afterwards, had done this before. Probably many times.

“You’re quite right,” said the lady herself, over breakfast the next morning. “I have considerable experience of administering the cane. I was a teacher for more than thirty years and a head teacher for nearly ten. I have learnt that lecturing girls about their behaviour is no good. It is the sting of the cane that makes them mend their ways. Don’t you agree?”

The travelling salesman, his bottom still striped and sore, more than twelve hours after his caning, agreed.

And so things continued for the next three months or so. Guests would be informed of the rules, would solemnly promise to keep the rules, but would then inadvertently let slip a word or words that infringed the rules. At which point, Miss Stevenson would give them the swingeing six of the best she had given errant schoolgirls in her teaching days. The guests got the message and, for the rest of their stay, would scrupulously avoid the merest hint of language to which Miss Stevenson would take exception.

It was a strange set-up and, when more than one guest was staying at the B & B, it could lead to some embarrassing situations. Miss Stevenson had decided to cane guests who swore in the privacy of their bedrooms, rather than in the communal kitchen. But the walls of the house were so thin that, when a caning was in progress, there was no danger of other guests missing the tell-tale swishing sounds, which led to some red faces as well as some red bottoms the following morning, much to Miss Stevenson’s satisfaction.

She could not have been happier about the way things were going. Strict rules, strictly enforced. That had been the guiding principle of her entire career. And if a little smile of pleasure crept on to her face after she had had occasion to administer a caning, that was only to be expected.

Men being the more coarse-tongued sex, it was generally male guests whom Miss Stevenson had occasion to chastise. But there were odd and, to Miss Stevenson, welcome exceptions. First there was the sassy young actress performing at the local repertory theatre who was prone to comment that audiences were ‘shite’. It was a word she used only once in Miss Stevenson’s presence, with predictable consequences. Then there was the married woman who, after a tiff with her husband, told him to fuck off, in Miss Stevenson’s hearing. She quickly mended her ways after being caned in front of her husband, who enjoyed every minute.

But it was Charlotte, a young teacher on a summer walking holiday, who really set Miss Stevenson’s pulse racing. She had booked to stay for three nights, but had hardly been in the house ten minutes when she threw a ‘bloody’ into her conversation. Up to her bedroom she was marched, caned, on her bare bottom, naturally, and sent to bed.

The next morning, at breakfast, she was looking suitably sheepish, only to use the word ‘bloody’ again. Miss Stevenson could hardly believe her ears. Had young Charlotte not learnt her lesson? Unbelievable insolence! So upstairs she was marched, without further ado, and given a further six of the best.

‘That will teach her,’ thought Miss Stevenson, surveying what was, by now, an exceptionally well-striped bottom. A bottom which Charlotte proceeded to rub frantically before promising to mend her ways and whispering: “Thank you.”

All day, while Charlotte was out walking, Miss Stevenson pondered the significance of that whispered ‘Thank you’. What was that about? ‘Thank you, Miss Stevenson, for correcting my bad behaviour’? Or ‘Thank you, Miss Stevenson, I enjoyed that’? The more Miss Stevenson pondered the riddle, the more confident she became that it was the latter.

There was only one way to find out. When Charlotte returned from her day’s walking, and was chatting to her landlady in the kitchen, Miss Stevenson watched her like a hawk. If she had learnt her lesson, and was truly contrite, there would surely be no more swearing. Apart from anything else, a caning would be agony on top of the existing stripes. But if Charlotte, for some reason, craved that agony…

It only took ten minutes for the riddle to resolve itself. Charlotte called a certain well-known actress a ‘bitch’ and, when she was marched up to her bedroom to be punished, bared her bottom with such barely suppressed eagerness that it did not take Sigmund Freud to put two and two together.

‘Interesting,’ thought Miss Stevenson. ‘Very interesting.’

Deep down, she knew perfectly well that, if Charlotte was enjoying her punishment, then the punishment was not working, and a different punishment was called for. But with her beloved cane in her hand, emotion completely trumped logic. Down came the cane, caressing the proffered bottom six times, and it would have been hard for a fly on wall to determine which woman was enjoying herself more.

After the sixth stroke, both women were panting slightly, as if they had made love.

“Thank you,” whispered Charlotte, making little effort to conceal her pleasure.

“You’re welcome,” said Miss Stevenson, barely concealing hers. “What a bloody silly…”

How she would have finished the sentence will never be known. That single ‘bloody’ was like a bomb going off. Both women knew its significance. If Miss Stevenson broke her own house rules, then Miss Stevenson must be punished according to her own house rules. Nothing further needed saying. And two minutes later, it was Miss Stevenson’s bare bottom quivering in anticipation of a well-deserved, eagerly desired, thrashing.

Truly some strange things go on behind closed doors in Kent.

The End

© Sally Cavendish 2017