Strained Friendship

A girl wants to make a friend, but has a strange way of showing it.

By Jane Fairweather

“Poor Anne has had to go home. I am afraid her nerves are not as good as they might be, which is always a risk when a sensitive girl tries for the highest level of exams.” Miss Frazer observed rather wryly to Priscilla Smith-Jones, her deputy head girl and the only other present member of the Scholarship Sixth, which specifically targeted places at the Cambridge women’s colleges.

“I am jolly sorry to hear that, Miss.” Priscilla stated demurely.

In fact, she was well aware of Anne’s panic attacks of the last week, which in Priscilla’s opinion had been cowardice, pure and simple. The stupid cow had kept sitting in her room crying and saying she could not possibly pass the Cambridge scholarship exams. And now it had finally led to her leaving the school.

‘A definite lack of backbone,’ Priscilla thought to herself, ‘especially about discipline. She was much too nice about plain naughtiness. And she did not believe in the cane.’

“Unfortunately, her father has always been uneasy about Anne pursuing the academic path, and he is now saying that she clearly cannot cope with the level of work required for entrance to Cambridge. When she is better, she is going to a finishing school for young ladies in Switzerland. I cannot say I approve.” Said Miss Frazer frostily. “It is hard enough for a girl to get anywhere in a man’s world without chickening out of exams that she is well capable of passing. With a little support she could have done it.”

“Of course, Miss.” Said Priscilla obsequiously and then added, “I suppose I will have to deputise, will I?”

“Yes, I imagine so. It really is a great pity about Anne. For all her nerviness she had a real humanity and a certain authority that worked very well with the younger girls. Some people are born with authority, you know Priscilla, and Anne, for all her failings, definitely had it, which makes her departure to a Swiss finishing school all the more lamentable. Yes, I hope you will follow a similar path to your predecessor. I don’t like caning girls for minor offences, so please don’t ask me to do it, not that Anne did. In fact, she never asked me to cane anyone in the all too brief two months she was Head Girl. She seemed to have a gift for making her fellow pupils aware of their failings without further action being necessary.”

“Does that mean I am Head Girl and not just deputising?” Priscilla asked.

She felt slightly surprised because she had never been much of a favourite with Miss Frazer, and she suspected that Anne might in fact be returning. And anyway, Jane Seymour in the Upper Sixth was the Head’s current favourite, and it was not unknown for members of the Upper Sixth to be Head Girl.

“Yes, I think it is simplest if you take Anne’s place. Given her father’s attitude, I really do not think she will return; and you are really the only candidate, because you are the only other girl this year in the Scholarship Sixth. You get on with Jane Seymour in the Upper Sixth, don’t you?”

“More or less, Miss. I don’t know her that well, but we do have the odd chat.”

“Well, you will have her as your deputy. Her Lower Sixth exam results were most promising and she is a thoroughly sensible girl. I more than half expect her to be in the Scholarship Sixth next year and the next Head Girl. I expect you to talk through any major decisions with her, though the final decision and responsibility is yours.

“I will announce your appointment as Head Girl during assembly tomorrow. I hope you do well with it. Though all this is an accident, it should at least help your Girton application.”

A rather moody Priscilla Smith-Jones left Miss Frazer’s study, thinking to herself: ‘I would not have minded a bit more enthusiasm. I am not sure that the silly woman really likes me. Why otherwise should she make Jane Seymour more or less my equal? Anne never had to consult me unless she wanted. And is all this extra work going to get in the way of my entrance exams? But still, it is an honour. I wonder if she will cane anyone if I send them to her; she did not sound that keen on doing it.’

*          *          *

Priscilla was not quite sure why she was standing outside the Headmistress’s office. It could be about her application to Girton, though it seemed much too soon for anything other than an immediate rejection. It could just be about the three Fourth Formers that she had sent for the cane the previous day after a lengthy discussion with Jane. She knew they had got one on each hand and looked very hard done by. Possibly the Head had been unhappy about doing it.

And yet it was Jane who had actually said, “Anne and you have both tried a lecture with these silly chumps. It has not stopped them deliberately cheeking their prefects over and over again. And did you notice their breath when we were trying to tell them off?”

“No, what about their breath?” Priscilla said.

“They were reeking of peppermint. When I was in the Fourth, it was the way to hide you had been smoking. I did it quite often.”

“I bet you do still!” Priscilla giggled.

“As to that, my Lud, I am not going to confirm or deny in case I may incriminate myself.” Jane giggled in return. “But seriously, it has got to the point those monkeys need to be pulled up hard, and the cane from the head is the obvious way to do it. It worked with me, incidentally.”

“What! You got the cane?” Priscilla asked, feeling mildly shocked that Jane Seymour, one of Miss Frazer’s definite favourites, had suffered the ultimate penalty.

“Yes, and how. God it stung.”

“What did you get?”

“One on each hand, first of all. It felt as if my hands were going to fall off. Then she thought I wasn’t showing sufficient remorse, because I was not crying. So off came my gymslip and over I bent for two very hard swishes into the back of my thighs. She did not cane my bottom for some reason. After that I cried, quite a lot. The odd thing is she seemed to mark me out after that little episode. You’d think it would be as someone likely to cause trouble, but she has always taken a very kind and personal interest in me since then.”

“In other words, you’re one of her crushes. I bet it was the shape of your bum.” Priscilla had said laughing. “Not many girls get to take their gymslip off for the cane!”

Be which as it may, she had followed Jane’s advice and sent the three young monkeys to the Headmistress for the cane, even though, perhaps surprisingly, she had doubts about doing it. And now, was she here for Miss Frazer to express her own doubts and hand the role of Head Girl over to Jane?

Miss Hammersley, otherwise known as ‘Lankey’, the games mistress, came striding out of the door and said hello to her briefly. Priscilla thought, as she had done ever since she was thirteen, that ‘Lankey’ was a poor description for someone with such long and shapely legs and beautifully curly black hair. She very much wished she was as beautiful as Miss Hammersely, but she was stuck with her horrible big bum. However, she had better knock. No doubt it was an immediate rejection from Cambridge.

No more than a minute later, she was sat in front of Miss Frazer’s desk, and Miss Frazer, for once in her life, was grinning. This was unsettling and Priscilla seriously wondered if it was the prelude to her dismissal as Head Girl. Perhaps she had done something totally ridiculous she was not aware of.

“You told me your interview and exam at Girton were at best marginal, as I remember.”

“Yes, I thought so, Miss.” Priscilla said very lamely, wishing Miss Frazer would just tell her that she had not got in.

“Well, in that case you will be surprised to hear that I have had a most kind letter. They have given you a full scholarship, which is not easy to get. At least part of their reasoning seems to be the acute interest in politics you showed during your interview. We do not, of course, encourage an interest in politics at this school, because it is something for adults and most girls just do not understand what goes on in Parliament and elsewhere. However, there is an exception to everything. I am surprised and delighted to learn that you know so much about the way Parliament works and indeed that you have clearly defined views about the parties. Are you a Conservative supporter? There is something about your family that tells me you ought to be.”

“Oh yes, Miss. Who could not be since the General Strike! The Labour Party is full of people who are almost Communists and you know what the Communists did to the Tsar and his family in Russia. Besides, if you nationalise everything like the Labour Party want to do, and they are doing in Russia, it is bound to end badly. People work better if they know their wages are caught up in whether there is a profit for the whole firm. I do think workers should have some share in the profits.”

“Very radical! But what about all the poor who must earn their living from little scrappy jobs like window cleaning or indeed cleaning for the rest of us? And what indeed about the all too numerous unemployed?” asked Miss Frazer quietly, with perhaps a glint in her eye.

“They won’t be better off under the Communists, Miss.”

“Well, is not for me to say. Headmistresses are supposed to stay neutral over politics, you know. However, you could do me a favour. Do you know Elizabeth Johnson?”

“The girl with red hair who failed her exams last year, when everyone said she would get distinctions?”

“The very same. She is stuck in ‘Six Remove’, doing retakes, when she ought to be sailing through the Lower Sixth with an eye on achieving something very like you have just done. I think that she is bored to death and she needs something to think about. Her father’s brother is Thomas Johnson, who sits for a North East constituency as a very passionate Labour member. He is always speaking up for the all too numerous unemployed in his area. He is an interesting man, who for all his strong views is a friend of Captain Macmillan, who is another MP in that area and a Conservative. Captain Macmillan, I believe, is a good friend of Mr Winston Churchill, who really belongs to no party, though he presently calls himself a Conservative. I would not be surprised if the three of them get together from time to time. As I hope you will discover when you get older, people talk across party lines in this country more than they do on the Continent or Russia indeed. And on the whole we do not shoot people in this country for disagreeing with the party line of whoever is in power. Anyway, I cannot talk to Miss Elizabeth Johnson in case I get accused of being political, though the thought is tempting, but you could do it, Priscilla. You obviously have real ideas of your own and, in an odd way, it might nudge Miss Johnson back in the direction of working for her exams and getting somewhere such as Cambridge, where she might be able to do something with her politics.”

“I don’t see I can help much, Miss. She sounds very much a Lefty.”

“On the contrary. I think you could be very useful to Miss Johnson. I want you to talk to her about politics. I want you to annoy her. Miss Charlton, her housemistress says Elizabeth is always reading the papers in the Common Room. Well, argue with her about something in one of them. See if you can stir her up.”

*          *          *

“What an odd thing to ask you to do!” Jane observed dryly in the privacy of Priscilla’s study. “I should tread carefully, Elizabeth has a foul temper. She is even supposed to have answered back to Miss Frazer when she was about to be caned. Can you imagine it! Answering back to the Big F in full flow.”

“You are making that up, you have to be.” Priscilla laughed, though she was half irritated.

“No, seriously I am not. The Head told me about it herself a few weeks back. She’s been wondering what to do about Elizabeth for quite a long time. The girl has ‘immense promise’ in Maths and Physics, according to our beloved headmistress, despite failing large parts of School Certificate quite spectacularly, but she has virtually gone on strike over retaking Latin and French.

“Apparently, Miss Coleridge has seriously suggested that somebody as boyish as Elizabeth might respond to a little traditional discipline on the seat of her knickers of a more vigorous sort than girls usually get. You know, five or six of the very best, and all that. Boys get it all the time for bad work, though not usually when they are as far up the school as our Elizabeth.”

“Why on earth did Miss Frazer not discuss it with Anne and me?” Priscilla replied almost resentfully. Fond though she was becoming of Jane, it seemed a bit much that her deputy knew more than she did.

“Because, my dear, she knew Anne would get hot under the collar at the idea of a senior girl getting whacked for anything, let alone just slack work, and you would be duty bound to support her.”

“I suppose Anne was not exactly keen on the cane for Juniors, even when they are being totally ridiculous. So I suppose she would have opposed it. Perhaps it was not that stupid. But why did the Big F not raise it with me when I became Head Girl?”

“Oh, she has decided whacking Elizabeth for bad work is not really practical, though apparently she had got as far as talking to the Dad, who was not totally against.” Jane declared all knowingly.

“I suppose I must do as I am asked, seeing it comes from the Head,” Priscilla declared. “But that girl is still in her gymslip because she’s landed in ‘Six Remove’ and she looks totally out of place in the Common Room with everyone else from her old form in skirts and blouses and getting away with wearing pretty slips under them. It’s going to be quite difficult to talk to her without looking odd. And her former classmates are just ignoring her at the moment, not that she was ever that popular. And the other girls in ‘Six Remove’ are just no hopers, who probably never talked to her lower down the school. It must be pretty hard being really bright and yet in ‘Six Remove’.”

“Well, let me chat her up a little,” said Jane. “I don’t know the first thing about politics, but I can always introduce you as someone who is really interested.”

“Chat her up?” Priscilla said half flippantly. “You are not like that, are you?”

“Just a figure of speech!” Jane responded. “Just a figure of speech. I like boys, not that they are available in vast quantities in this institution. How about you, since you raised the question?”

“Of course not!” Priscilla snapped, blushing.

However, in her heart of hearts she was not that sure. She had not yet had a crush on anyone male. Perhaps that came later. And then there was her crush on Miss Hammersley, which she had always kept very quiet about, even though it had been with her since the age of at least thirteen and she had a constant recurring fantasy about being caned on her bum by the Games Mistress.

And then, she thought to herself wryly, that yes she found Elizabeth Johnson aggravating beyond belief, but the body under that flaming red hair definitely stirred something in her, and she found herself imagining Elizabeth bent right over with only her knickers between her bottom and a very flexible cane. Not that she herself had ever seen the dreaded weapon of execution, and she felt absurdly jealous of Jane for having experienced it.

“I am not sure whether Elizabeth is like that either.” Jane was suddenly breaking the odd silence. “But, there is certainly something very boyish about her. Miss Coleridge is not that far wrong, though it would be very mean if Elizabeth got six of the best on her bum for bad work. She’d be wriggling like mad and finding it hard to concentrate, even if it made her more inclined to make an effort. But I bet she would take it better than most girls in the school. Our Elizabeth has got guts. It takes a lot to stand up to a full scale dressing down from the Head and I gather she has endured several. Six of the best really must be a shock to your system. One on each hand is quite bad enough.”

“Yes, it is definitely a silly idea,” Priscilla stated firmly, realizing suddenly that she was desperate to end this conversation before she gave away too much of her private self. “I will be very firm about it, if the head asks me, but I don’t suppose she will. It is so obviously a bad idea.”

*          *          *

Elizabeth was coaxed from her sullen silence to reasonably polite conversation over the next couple of days. Jane was nothing if not well versed in the arts of social conversation, Priscilla kept thinking to herself as she cursed her own lack of small talk and kept telling herself she would have to acquire it if she was to flourish in the very different world of Cambridge and beyond. Jane, she noticed, had a very good knowledge of Tennis, which Elizabeth appeared to share, and both girls seemed more aware of fashion than she was. She found she was positively jealous of Jane’s ability to discuss the likely length of skirts next year with this infuriating red-haired minx in her smelly gym slip. And yet she would not have enjoyed such a conversation.

Deliberately, she kept away, though she listened with amusement to various snide comments she heard about Jane’s obvious sudden crush on Elizabeth.

‘Little do they know!’ she thought to herself.

Then, (was it on the third or the fourth day of this strange goings-on?) Jane called her over and said, “Priscilla, Elizabeth here is trying to convince me families can’t really live on the unemployment pay. I know you know about these things, what do you think?”

Then they were at it hammer and tongs. Elizabeth was rabbiting on that her infallible MP Uncle had told her about three and four people having to share one portion of fish and chips, and meals of a pennyworth of peas and a pennyworth of chips, and adding how families were being broken up by various odd regulations about who could and could not get benefit, and Priscilla was blithely saying it was all Communist propaganda and of course the government would not make people starve deliberately. And anyway, these silly people could all leave the areas they were in and get work elsewhere, but they were too lazy to do it.

So far, so good. Jane felt able to detach herself from the conversation and over the next few days the Sixth Form Common Room rather amusedly became used to the spectacle of the Head Girl locking horns with somebody from ‘Sixth Remove’ over politics, which nobody else was much interested in. After a while, the novelty passed and nobody even took much notice.

However, going over more or less the same arguments over and over again wore both girls’ tempers. And yet they kept on and did not relapse into moody silence because both girls believed passionately in what they were saying.

And perhaps it was a sign of the developing situation that Priscilla, more and more frequently, found herself imagining the sheer pleasure there would be in ending one of these arguments by ordering Elizabeth to remove her gym slip and bend over for six of the best on the seat of her tightly stretched knickers for lying and impertinence. It would be a very pleasurable punishment to administer, she kept thinking. Perhaps it would have a real effect on Elizabeth’s work; certainly the politics did not seem to be doing much and she knew that Miss Coleridge was still making loud complaints to the Head, who passed them on to Priscilla and Jane with an oddly ambiguous smile. Was the Head having the same thoughts about the sheer pleasure there would be in caning this thoroughly aggravating creature, Priscilla wondered?

*          *          *

It was a thoroughly bad start to that Thursday. There was a letter from Priscilla’s mother’s father, who had never been her favourite person.

Her real Grandpa, as she often told herself, was her Mother’s step father who had encouraged her every step of the way and wrote regularly and kindly. He had already sent her £5 for getting her scholarship and a letter saying there would be further donations to the good cause when she got to college. In particular, he would settle her book account, since he felt that she needed to read outside her course and he doubted if she could afford to do it without help.

By contrast, Mother’s father had previously written once a year on her birthday with a five shilling postal order and a bad joke about not buying too many chocolates with it; and she always resented him signing it ‘Grandpa’ as if he had some claim to the title.

But this letter was something new and altogether unpleasant. It informed her that no woman of her grandfather’s acquaintance had ever benefited from further education; it only landed them in jobs they did not like and made them less likely to attract the right sort of husband. In his opinion, she should do the decent thing, refuse her scholarship and go home and live with her parents till a good husband with plenty of money to support a family came on the scene.

Priscilla did not often lose her temper, but her immediate reaction was to scream loudly, rip the offending epistle to shreds and hurl her large French dictionary against the wall of her study. Fortunately, the dictionary survived more or less intact although there was a definite mark on the wall and when she picked it up she was rather startled by the sheer animal fury that she had just exhibited.

Yet in some strange way, she found it very exhilarating that she could get so angry. Perhaps she should not be so reasonable and restrained with Elizabeth? Still, the Head would expect her to be reasonable, she knew, so she had better restrain herself. And yet she would like nothing better than to send Elizabeth to Miss Frazer to be soundly caned for insolence. Yes, she decided, she was not going to be nice with Elizabeth today. If Elizabeth came up with the same silly arguments she was going to tell the stupid arrogant girl just what she thought, and if she ended up wanting to scream then that was just what she was going to do. And if Elizabeth responded in kind then she would be sent to have her backside soundly laced by the Head’s swishy cane; she was not going to take any more from Elizabeth, the stupid bitch.

There was a knock at her door. It was Jane, who as Deputy Head Girl had the study next to her.

“Are you alright? Whatever happened?” Jane was saying.

Elizabeth told her briefly and apologised for her behaviour, feeling more than slightly ridiculous.

“You’re not going to have another argument with Elizabeth, are you?” Said Jane anxiously. “With you in this mood, it could get out of hand, you know. Don’t you feel it has gone as far as it can? Maybe you should tell the Head so and let her take it from here.”

“Of course I am capable of conducting a civilised argument about politics,” Priscilla snapped with another burst of fury.

She swept past her deputy and down the corridor toward the Sixth Form Common Room, where she suspected that Elizabeth was being lazy as usual. Jane looked at her with alarm, but because she had Latin with the formidable Miss Coleridge, the Deputy Head Girl did not make any effort to follow.

*          *          *

Priscilla arrived in the Common Room, positively glowing with anger. She barely noticed the couple of girls who were gossiping vigorously in one corner. She only had eyes for Elizabeth, who was standing by the table with the newspapers and magazines reading a copy of the Daily Telegraph. In spite of herself, she found herself wondering how anyone could look so attractive in a gymslip and blouse, which both had food stains.

“Hi Priscilla, SJ! How are you today?” Elizabeth asked in what was undoubtedly meant to be a friendly manner.

Priscilla in her present mood was not amused at being addressed by her nickname, but did not say so.

“Any news today?” She asked.

“My Uncle has made rather a good speech, and even the Telegraph has reported it in quite a bit of detail.” Said Elizabeth.

“Let’s have a look.”

Elizabeth handed over the paper, open at the right page.

Priscilla glared at the speech, which said that if London Transport could work more or less as a State enterprise then there was no reason why the railways could not be treated in the same way. In some moods she would almost have agreed, but it suited her mood to violently disagree.

“Bloody Communist!” she said. “I expect he’d like to get the firing squads out as well.”

Even as she said it, she realized she had gone beyond the pale and there was going to be a strong reaction from Elizabeth, but she was not prepared for the scream of fury and the two ferocious slaps that landed on her right cheek and made her feel as if her jaw was going to fall off.

“And don’t ask me to apologise.” Elizabeth roared at the top of her voice. “You deserved that!”

The three girls in the corner were suddenly looking up, wondering what on earth was going on.

It suddenly occurred to Priscilla that there were witnesses to what she had said and there was a fair chance that the Head would hold her and Elizabeth equally responsible for this fracas, which, since there was no way that the Head Girl could be caned, would mean in all probability just a mutual apology and she would have to grovel unbelievably to Miss Frazer and promise never to do anything like this again, which would be incredibly humiliating.

And yet Elizabeth deserved to be caned. Of that she was quite sure. However, perhaps if she just went to the Head and gave a slightly doctored report of the incident, her word would just be taken that this was what had happened and Elizabeth would get the sound whacking she had been deserving for weeks, or even get expelled. In that situation, with luck, no witnesses other than herself and Elizabeth would be called.

“I will be talking to Miss Frazer about your horrific behaviour and if you get the stick then don’t blame me.” Priscilla stated and then turned on her heel and swept out with a swish of skirts.

“Oh sugar! Not the cane.” She heard Elizabeth say in something close to a wail.

“But then, why is she not sending you straight to her?” One of the other girls was asking. “I expect it is more bark than bite. You will just get a lecture. I got the impression she was being pretty rude herself. She might even forget about it when she has calmed down and thought about it.”

‘Oh, but she IS going to present her pretty backside for the cane.’ Priscilla grinned to herself and then wondered why she had just described Elizabeth as pretty for the second time that morning.

*          *          *

“This is a serious allegation,” Miss Frazer stated very wearily. “And I would really rather not cane a Sixth Former, even a member of that bunch of scallywags, ‘Six Remove’. I know I have joked to both you and Jane about Miss Coleridge’s rather silly proposal for improving Elizabeth’s standard of work. I do hope what was meant as a joke, certainly by me, is not influencing your determination to have Miss Johnson soundly whipped, as we would have said when I was a child. Not that it happened that often to eighteen year old girls even then. Miss Coleridge’s mad idea is not the reason that you are pushing for this, is it?”

“No, Miss. I just think violence of any sort is not to be encouraged, and she was very violent, Miss.” Priscilla said, wondering quite genuinely if her jaw was ever going to feel the same again.

“And you definitely said nothing to provoke this? It does seem remarkably unlike Elizabeth. She has often been naughty, but not like this.”

“Nothing at all, Miss. As I told you, she showed me an article in the Telegraph about a speech her uncle had made, which was about nationalising the railways, and I made some very innocuous remarks saying I did not agree with the idea, and then she slapped me twice, very hard.”

“And you are quite sure that there are no real witnesses to this?”

“Well, as I told you, Miss, there were other girls, but they were at the other end of the room and had their backs to us, and they were nattering till after Elizabeth slapped me, so they cannot know much, if anything. I wasn’t really looking who they were, I am afraid, Miss. I was too upset.”

“Well, I shall be doing what I can to find those girls. But, assuming you are right, and I expect you are, unfortunately, Miss Elizabeth Johnson will shortly be finding out just how painful and humiliating a full dress caning on the seat of the knickers is. It is over a decade since I had to give such a punishment and it is not a pleasant thing to have to do. Now, I may well need you again. You had better stay either in your room, or the Library or the Common Room for at least the next hour, perhaps better say an hour and a half.”

“Yes, Miss. Thank you, Miss.”

“And the next time I tell you to talk to someone about politics you had better profit from this lesson and not get them so het up!”

“Yes, Miss Frazer.”

“Now, you can go. Hopefully we will not have to talk again about this really very disagreeable incident.”

Priscilla walked out into the corridor feeling decidedly uneasy. She could, she realized, have landed herself in the most dreadful hot water and the thought pursued her all the way to her room. The Library and Common Room both seemed much too public and she did not even think of going there. She sat herself down at her desk and tried to continue the crime novel by Agatha Christie, which she had begun in the Summer Holidays and now the Entrance exams were over she at long last had time to read.

*          *          *

Slightly over an hour later, the lack of information about what had happened to Elizabeth was beginning to worry Priscilla deeply. Partly, it was fear that the tables might still be turned on her and she could find herself in front of the Head herself. Would she have the courage to bend over and take the punishment, she kept nervily asking? What would it feel like to have your skirts pulled up on to your back and feel your knickers tighten, which was presumably what happened?

However, and this worried her much more, she was beginning to feel deep regret and even guilt about the punishment that was going to be inflicted on Elizabeth at her request. She kept thinking that, in spite of all the arguments, or possibly because of them, she had somehow got very fond of Elizabeth. And it did not help that she kept remembering Elizabeth when she was really angry with her flaming red hair tossing and her flashing eyes. Not exactly prettiness, Priscilla decided, but Elizabeth, when she was angry, had a certain raw beauty that she found very attractive.

It seemed altogether wrong that such a lovely creature should have to undergo this punishment, even if she probably deserved it. Perhaps, Priscilla thought, she ought to go to the head and say that she would be much happier if Elizabeth was not caned and just had to give her an apology. But would Miss Frazer agree to that? There again, in all probability the beating had already happened and she kept wondering if Elizabeth had made much of a fuss about it, especially that awful bit of having to bend over and feel your skirts being lifted, which must be incredibly embarrassing and almost worse than that swishy stinging cane. But had not Jane said something about having to take her gym slip off? But surely a Sixth Former would not have to actually remove clothes; they would just be lifted out of the way, wouldn’t they? She somehow managed to convince herself that this was definitely so and then imagined Elizabeth’s trim bottom in that position, which she found an oddly intriguing thought.

But there again, would Elizabeth ever speak to her again? Curiously, considering all that had just happened, she found the thought that Elizabeth might not speak to her again deeply worrying. At this point a few tears crept into her eyes, but she wiped them resolutely and managed to at least look at her novel again, though the meaning of the words seemed to elude her.

There was a knock on the door and Priscilla opened it trembling. It was Miss Rowbothom, the decidedly matronly school secretary in her ill-fitting grey jacket and long grey skirt.

“The Headmistress would be grateful for a few moments of the Head Girl’s time,” Miss Rowbothom stated very ceremoniously, using the same words she always used and probably had used to at least twenty years’ worth of Head Girls.

“Yes, of course,” said Priscilla awkwardly.

“If you will forgive me, I need to do something in the opposite direction, but I am sure you know the way.”

“Yes, of course.” Priscilla repeated.

She looked rather blankly as Miss Rowbothom lumbered off to the left. Then she decided she had better get it over with, whatever it was, and turned to the right toward Miss Frazer’s study.

As she went she wished that Miss Rowbottom had been more forthcoming. It would be so helpful to know what she was wanted for. It could be a further discussion about Elizabeth, perhaps whether there should be an expulsion as well as a caning, though she hoped this was not the case. It could well be a question of having to explain her own actions, which could end perfectly alright, though there was a fair chance that it would not. Had the Head found those other girls in the Common Room and had they taken in anything of what happened? Or it could just be something minor like the arrangements for the prefects at the forthcoming carol service. Yes, she decided, that was as likely as anything. If it had been something more serious, surely Miss Rowbotham would have been less ceremonious. Or would she?

At all events, despite feeling slight butterflies in her stomach, Priscilla felt almost calm as she approached the Headmistress’s study, going over in her mind what normally happened at the carol service.

There was nobody else waiting to see the Head. She knocked, but then realized people were talking in the study. Judging by the volumes of the two voices, Miss Frazer was soundly berating some unfortunate girl, and the victim was trying to make conciliatory replies, and failing. Presumably the victim was not Elizabeth. Whatever had happened to her must have been over with at least half an hour ago, Priscilla decided. She wondered again if Elizabeth had got the cane in the end. Miss Frazer might well have let her off at the last minute or something like that.

Then there were what sounded like a couple of commands. Then there was a pause, and a strange sound, followed by what seemed to be something hitting something, which Priscilla had not heard before. She realized to her horror that she was almost certainly listening to Elizabeth’s caning, unless of course two girls were getting it in one morning, which seemed unlikely. At least, she thought, if Elizabeth was getting the cane, it was unlikely she was going to.

There was the sound of a second stroke and Elizabeth was making some very odd noises, somewhere between wailing and shrieking. These noises were decidedly louder after the third stroke, but there was at least a pause before more strokes descended.

“Please, Miss Frazer, stop there!” Priscilla whispered aloud.

However, after at least a minute’s pause, a fourth stroke descended and poor Elizabeth was shrieking at the top of her voice, and Priscilla was praying for the punishment to end. She felt as if she was being caned as well; it was most odd.

But mercifully, after the fourth stroke the punishment ended. Priscilla found herself shaking like a leaf as she waited for Elizabeth to emerge. Could she face the girl who had been put through this dreadful punishment at her request? She so wanted to make it up and make friends, but it seemed rather late in the day for that.

When Elizabeth finally emerged through the door, Priscilla was wringing her hands and feeling in a state of shock, and wondering desperately what to say.

She actually said, perfectly truthfully: “You really got whacked, poor thing! I really did not mean it to come to this. I just thought you’d get a lecture. Have I got to go in now? I knocked earlier and she did not take any notice.”

“Yes, she said so. I do hope you are not for it as well.”

“You can’t be serious! I’m the Head Girl; I won’t get the cane. Don’t be ridiculous.”

Elizabeth limped off down the corridor, leaving Priscilla to wonder if Miss Frazer would choose the drastic solution of caning both parties to an episode which, she had to admit, had been quite ridiculous. But surely she would not cane the Head Girl, would she? Elizabeth had just been saying what she would like to happen, but it was wishful thinking. Priscilla knocked very tentatively indeed, wishing she could stop shaking.

Miss Frazer opened the door and beckoned her over to her desk. Priscilla noted with distinct unease that a very supple looking cane of at least three feet in length was still lying there on the desk, like a snake about to bite, she thought, but with any luck she was not going to be bitten. It had already tasted its victim. She wondered where such a ridiculous idea had come from.

“Well, at least we have an obvious alternative as Head Girl. Jane should do very well,” Miss Frazer observed almost too matter of factly. “Now, perhaps you would be kind enough to hand over your badges. I don’t think I really need to tell you why.”

Priscilla fiddled with the prefect’s badge on her tie and managed to get it off without bursting in to tears. However, the Head Girl’s ornate badge with its awkward fastening was harder to get off the lapel of her blazer and, when she finally had it in her hand to give to Miss Frazer, she started to weep. The Headmistress was almost sympathetic. She gave her a handkerchief and waited a minute while she stopped crying.

As she recovered from her tears, Priscilla assumed that losing her badges was going to be her punishment, and she felt it keenly. She waited to be told she could go, but Miss Frazer stayed oddly silent as if arguing with herself. Priscilla waited in increasing dread, trying to keep her eye off the brown cane.

“Well, clearly,” said Miss Frazer finally. “We cannot have a Head Girl who is incapable of a civilised conversation with one of her peers, but behaves in the most bullying imaginable fashion, provoking said girl into a position where she is bound to retaliate and have to be punished. At least, that is my clear impression from talking to Elizabeth Johnson, who as always was very honest and straight forward. I say it also, to some extent, from talking to the other girls who were present in the Common Room during this horrific episode. As you thought, they did not take it all in, but two of them were perfectly clear that you started it and deliberately provoked Elizabeth.

“I have thought very seriously about whether to expel you from this school as well as taking your badges away. However, that would probably lose you your place at Girton and almost certainly your scholarship. After all the hard work you have put in, I think that would be slightly unfair. Besides, if you learn from this lamentable episode you may well make an interesting contribution to the world.

“No, I think the best, if rather old-fashioned, solution is a jolly good hiding of the sort that you have just forced me to give Elizabeth. Since you are the main culprit, you will have five strokes and not the four she got off with.

“Now, young lady, you will remove your blazer and hang it on the back of the chair by my desk. Now, undo your tie and put on the chair. Now, unfasten your blouse and fold it neatly and put it on the chair.”

“Please Miss, can’t you just lift my skirts up?” Priscilla begged desperately, blushing wildly and feeling incredibly embarrassed.

“No, that is not the punishment as we do it at this school, and incidentally Miss Johnson accepted it without a murmur. One more argument or protest, young lady, and it will be six strokes and not five. Now get on with it.”

Priscilla complied, starting to weep again as she struggled with the blouse’s buttons.

“Now your skirt.”

Again, she struggled with it. The buttons of the grey pleated skirt just did not seem to want to undo and it is difficult to do anything while you are crying your eyes out. However, in the end Priscilla managed to step out of the skirt, fold it and put it on the chair.

“That’s a pretty slip. You sixth form girls seem to take such pride in your slips. However, off it comes. Fold it carefully. Now you will lean as far forward over the end of my desk as you can and you will hold the sides with your hands.”

Priscilla felt so embarrassed and punished by her forced undressing and the loss of her badges that she nearly said how chastised she felt and could she not be spared the cane? However, something told her that she would only end up with an extra stroke, so very reluctantly she reached over the end of the large oak desk with its heavily polished wood, and grasped the sides as hard as she could. She reflected that she was crying so hard that there was going to be a puddle on the desk when it was all over.

She shut her eyes as she heard Miss Frazer swishing her cane, presumably to frighten her, as if she was not frightened enough already, and gritted her teeth. She was not, she decided very firmly, going to yell as loud as Elizabeth had. Preferably, she was not going to yell at all.

The cane swished and cracked, and Priscilla realized it had bitten deep into her large, soft bottom. For a second, it did not seem to have hurt much and then there was a huge wave of pain and, in spite of all her good resolutions, she howled and twisted. The punishment seemed to the victim at least to happen much more quickly than Elizabeth’s had done. Everything merged into everything else as three times the cane bit into her lower buttocks, and then twice crossed over the first three. Poor Priscilla shrieked and wailed and wriggled, and only just stayed in position.

Then she was slumped over the desk and clutching her bottom, which seemed engulfed by a fire that could never be put out. Miss Frazer left her to herself for several minutes, then told her briskly to pull herself together and get dressed, which she did very shakily and tearfully, struggling yet again with all the buttons.

“You know, you would have suffered somewhat less if you had been wearing regulation knickers.” Miss Frazer observed, almost as if excusing her own severity. “Now you can go. I suppose you can keep your study; we can find another for the new deputy. We won’t, incidentally, say anything about all this in Assembly, but merely tell them that you have not been confirmed as Head Girl and Jane is taking over. If you manage to keep your nose clean, I may well give you back your prefect’s badge next term, assuming you are coming back. I hope you are. There is a lot that can be done to broaden your education during the next few months. Now, I suggest you go and recover in your study and, for your own sake, I should tell as few people as possible about what happened today. Now get off with you.”

Priscilla limped out of Miss Frazer’s study, all too aware that her bottom was swelling badly. To her relief, she managed to get to her study without seeing anyone she knew and threw herself face down on the bed where she wept for several hours. Jane, she knew, had First Eleven hockey practice all this afternoon and a house match afterwards, which was a relief; she just did not want any sympathy. It was her own fault and she deserved it, even if the Head had rather over done it.

As the pain subsided just a little, she began to wonder what was to be done about the swelling, and it suddenly came into her head that her elder brother, John, who she was not that fond of, had told her in a moment of boasting of the superiority of the male sex that he and his pals at boarding school always took a caning with a certain sangfroid and rubbed cream in for one another afterwards as a matey sort of a thing to do. Had she got any cream? She remembered, rather disconnectedly, the presence of a jar of face cream and managed to find it. Then she realized that rubbing it in herself without being able to see where these horrible welts were was going to be difficult and messy.

Then it struck her that Elizabeth was almost certainly in the same state of agony as she was, and might be glad to share the cream. They could rub it in for one another, couldn’t they? And maybe it would be the beginning of getting together with Elizabeth, either as a friend, or maybe that bit more. This sounded ridiculous, but also oddly plausible. Anyway, it might make for a mending of fences between the two of them, which she realized she wanted desperately.

Where was Elizabeth’s dorm? She would almost certainly be there, unless she had recovered remarkably quickly. Being in ‘Six Remove’, she would not have graduated to a study. Ah! One advantage of having been Head Girl was that she still had the dorm lists, and Priscilla found it without too much trouble. She staggered off down the corridor clutching her cream in her hand.

She put her head round the Dorm door, feeling incredibly nervous, but determined not to show it. She realized that Elizabeth had very obviously been crying her eyes out and was lying on her side on the bed. She was quite frightened that Elizabeth would greet her with screams of derision. However, to her relief her fellow sufferer’s eyes were looking at her with distinct sympathy.  She staggered up to Elizabeth’s bed.

“You were right, she whacked me too. God it was a shock.” Priscilla found herself saying. “I got five; all on my knickers, as hard as she could give them. And having to take my skirt and blouse and slip off. That was almost as bad as the caning. I hated that. And I am no longer Head Girl.”

“You poor thing!” Elizabeth replied, to Priscilla’s great relief. “I would not have wished that on you. I suppose it will teach me to lose my temper.”

“I did ask for it!’ said Priscilla very contritely. “Anyway, I thought maybe we could compare stripes and you could rub some of this cream in for me and I could do it for you. My brother tells me that is what he and his friends do, and it cheers them up.”

“Good plan!” said Elizabeth.

By some mutual instinct, they lowered one another’s knickers and pulled up each other’s skirts. Priscilla plonked herself face down on the bed without asking, feeling her need was desperate, wondering as she did it if Elizabeth was going to argue about who should get the soothing cream first.

However, Elizabeth looked intently, then touched one of the weals and then exclaimed, “She really did whack you!”

She took the tub of cream off Priscilla and rubbed it in slowly and carefully. Priscilla wondered if she dared to say how sensual she found Elizabeth’s touch.

Aloud she just said, “That is at least a bit better. Thank you! Somehow, I would not have liked anyone else except you to do it for me. It’s too private, somehow. Are you ready for yours?”

“More than ready!” Elizabeth replied.

Priscilla found it even more sensuous applying the cream to Elizabeth’s lovely bottom which, she reflected, was shaped like two halves of a pear.

Then Elizabeth was unexpectedly asking: “Do you think you could coach me with my Latin and French? I know you are supposed to be brilliant at languages. I don’t mean, do it for me. I need to pull up my socks, everyone says so, but I need some help to start. I do so want to get to University and do science, and they won’t let me matriculate without French and Latin.”

“It might be good experience, but I have never taught anyone. Still, I will give it a go.” Priscilla replied very awkwardly, thinking as she said it that this might lead to a close friendship.

Then she mischievously finished her ministrations with a sharp pat to that pretty bottom.

“Ow!” said Elizabeth, and patted her back at least as hard.

Then they were patting and tickling one another, and giggling, which after the dire events of the day was an enormous relief to both girls.

Then, before Priscilla quite knew where she was, she had been invited to spend Christmas with Elizabeth’s family, and Elizabeth was saying she was sure that her Dad would pay for her coaching.

And so began a long, never easy, but always satisfying relationship.

The End

© Jane Fairweather 2019

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