A childish prank leads to problems

By Jane Fairweather

“You have got the mouse?” Meg Bates enquired, just a touch nervously, just before the Upper Sixth French lesson.

She had not been quite sure that her friend would go through with the prank.

“Yes, of course I have!” Amelia responded. “It’s time someone took Jenks down a peg. And it’s a lovely way to do it, no one will ever guess whose mouse it was; and I am a bit bored with Simon anyway. It’s such a fag keeping him hidden from the teachers. With luck he will run off and be free and never be seen again.”

Meg had to think for a second to remember that Amelia’s white mouse was called Simon, but she did not say anything. You did not make sensible comments to A.

“It is a bit hard on Simon.” Meg did say. “I expect the school cat will get him pretty soon if a mouse trap doesn’t.”

“Well I can’t very well tell them my mouse got out by accident and reclaim him; he is not supposed to exist.” Amelia said with slight, but scarcely excessive guilt, “Anyway, Jenks thoroughly deserves it. She is always so horrid; she isn’t even nice now we are in the Sixth Form like Fanshaw.”

“You used to have a real crush on Jenks way back in the Fourth Form. I remember you telling me how pretty her face and hair were and how much you admired the way that she dressed.”

“Well that was before she started giving me lines for not doing my work properly and I realized what a cow she was. She has even given me lines in the Sixth, do you realize?”

“Not that often.” Said Meg more than slightly sceptically. “If you ask me, it is a case of love turned to hate.”

“Oh don’t be so silly!” Amelia snapped irritably and picked up her satchel to go to her French lesson.

*          *          *

Alison Jenkins was sitting in a noisy staff room trying to keep herself to herself by determinedly marking 5UB’s rather dubious attempts at translation. It irritated her that the original was a dryly witty short story by Maupassant and none of the girls seemed to have the faintest idea that the original was in the least funny.

Still, splattering her pupils’ efforts with red ink was at least a distraction from the two matters that were weighing on Alison, who was not having the best of days.

Firstly 3A had been their usual horrid selves about learning French verbs. The whole idea of the Past Historic had seemed to be quite beyond them; and she had been obliged to hand out impositions on a scale that she genuinely disliked doing, because, in all probability, it would make the feud between teacher and class worse rather than better. She knew very well that the only reason the impositions would be done was the lurking threat of a visit to the Headmistress’s office and a severe lecture and just possibly the cane if they were not done. She hoped quite genuinely this was not leading to a couple of the more rebellious girls holding out their hands for Miss Carruthers’ very efficient cane, pour encourager les autres; but it might turn out to be the only way.

But much more importantly, she herself was in dire trouble. It had come to Miss Carruthers’s ears through the excessive curiosity of a school governor, Miss Wilmott (who in Alison’s view was an old bag), that her senior French mistress had spent her weekend’s leave in Brighton with a MAN; and there had been a really serious discussion in the Headmistress’s office the previous evening, which was still ringing in Alison Jenkins’ ears.

How dare Miss Jenkins behave in such a low moral manner and take advantage of the school’s granting her a weekend’s leave to disport herself in this fashion with a MAN, Miss Carruthers had fulminated.

It was true of course that Robert Smith (he really was called that, as he had remarked when they signed the hotel register as Mr and Mrs) had given her the sort of time in bed that a man who is very much in love with you ought to give; and he had been a very good companion on their walks. However, all through the weekend she had the feeling that this was not forever, and he knew just that little bit too much about lovemaking for his protestations that she was the only girl for him to be taken seriously. Marriage she had concluded fairly early in the weekend was very definitely not on the agenda, though she had to admit she did like Robert a lot; but even if she was wrong and marriage was on the agenda, did she know Robert well enough? She felt she needed to test these uncertain waters a great deal more before she made up her mind about anything, but how did you explain that to someone of Miss Carruthers’ very old fashioned background?

It was very tempting to defy Miss Carruthers to her face and walk out, but the truth was she needed this job. Besides if she was dismissed for immoral behaviour, would she get another job? Robert might just marry her out of embarrassment if that happened, but she suspected marriage to Robert would not be a bed of roses, so she lied, quite shamelessly.

“Really Miss Carruthers, Mr Penhaligon and I are old friends from childhood. We met by a complete accident when I was browsing in a bookshop in the Lanes, and walked arm in arm for a while, and then had a coffee. Really there was no more to it than that.”

“So you were with a man, you admit that?” Miss Carruthers said briskly, “I wish you would have the sense to stick to women friends, which nobody ever has cause to worry about. Men are such dubious creatures and really, Miss Jenkins, you should have had a chaperone, though it would have been difficult to arrange, I imagine. However, I suppose having a wander and chat with an old friend who has been met by chance is not that unreasonable.

“I am going to talk to my Chairman of Governors, and I think I will have another chat with Miss Wilmott, just to make sure that your version is plausible, you understand. You had better come and see me, shall we say at five-thirty tomorrow evening. I will have had time by then to think the thing through and gather any further information, and come to a conclusion about your future in this school. I would be reluctant to lose a good French teacher; they are a rare commodity, but on the other hand there are standards to be upheld and the question of the proper moral example to our girls.”

Since then Alison had varied between fury at the idea a grown woman could not meet a man without being chaperoned (which was at least twenty years out of date), let alone go to bed with them, a genuine thankfulness for Miss Carruthers’ essential kindness, and worry that Miss Wilmott might know enough to explode her story, take away her job and destroy her respectability.

However, it was three o’clock and time for the Upper Sixth French set and the last lesson of the afternoon. Rather reluctantly she closed the exercise book she had been marking and made her way to her class clutching her copy of Balzac’s Pere Goriot.

*          *          *

“I bet she jumps up on a chair, or even the desk and does a sort of dance!” Amelia muttered gleefully to Meg.

Meg was beginning to think this mouse caper might be quite fun, but was also a little uneasy that Sixth Formers should not be behaving in this way. Still, she joined in Amelia’s giggling.

“What’s got you two going?” Susan George demanded. “Anything anyone else can join in?”

“Private joke!” Said Meg quickly, before Amelia could incriminate herself.

Meg realized that for all her giggling she was beginning to have kittens in case Amelia’s cover was cracked and Amelia, or perhaps even both of them, ended up in the Head’s study. What would have been regarded quite lightly lower down the school could so easily turn serious; they were Upper Sixth Formers now. Still, there was no changing Amelia’s mind when she had made it up, she knew that only too well, but  the teachers could not know possibly know whose mouse it was  and none of their classmates would grass, so it ought to be fairly safe.

*          *          *

Alison entered her class in a flurry, knowing she was two minutes late and this would not do, and she was barely able to concentrate for thinking about the looming interview with Miss Carruthers. Still, the girls of the Upper V1th French set had got to a stage where they genuinely knew some French and the lesson started well with a very lively discussion of the chapter in Pere Goriot that she had asked them to read closely.

She usually sat down when teaching the Sixth Form, but she had got up to write up some key points on the black board when she became aware of a giggle rippling across the room. Her immediate reaction was that her dress must be slightly up at the back and her slip must be showing, and the girls were being their usual proper selves; it was incredible how they would laugh at the slightest abnormality in a teacher’s dress or behaviour.

Alison turned round to say something fairly blunt about her senior pupils’ manners and realized something white was scuttering about on the floor. Closer examination showed it was a white mouse. She had owned one herself as a teenager and she picked it up deftly.

“Amelia,” she said dryly. “Perhaps you would be kind enough to put this little creature back in its box so we can get on with Pere Goriot.”

“No, it’s not mine, Miss,” Amelia said grinning rather too much.

“Amelia Cove, I don’t think I am alone among the staff at this school in being aware that you have been keeping a small white mouse in a cardboard box in your satchel. Personally I don’t mind as long as you don’t start playing tricks like this.”

“Really, it is not mine, Miss.” Amelia answered rather awkwardly.

“I am quite sure it is your mouse, Miss Cove.”

“Really it isn’t, Miss Jenkins.”

The class watched with fascination to see who won this battle of wills, but they were not prepared for Alison Jenkins’ next words.

“Right, Miss Cove, you will go to Headmistress for the cane for behaviour far below the level that might be expected of an Upper Sixth Former and deliberate and calculated lying.”

“I really am sorry, Miss Jenkins. I’ll put the mouse back in its box and never do it again. And I am sorry I lied.” Amelia responded, clearly more than a little shaken.

The class smiled to itself and thought Miss Jenkins had won rather a neat victory, but then they heard: “Oh no, Miss Cove, I have had one thing after another from you over several years. No! I am past apologies with you; you will go to Miss Carruthers for the cane, but put the mouse back in its box before you do.”

Amelia found the mouse being thrust neatly into her hands as she sat irresolutely at her desk, trying to dawdle till her teacher relented. Reluctantly, she took Simon and slipped him back into the little box filled with cotton wool and straw that was his home.

“Now go to the Headmistress immediately. Failure to do so will be reported to Miss Carruthers and is likely to have dire consequences. I hope you realize that, Miss Cove.”

Alison was just wondering if she was strong enough to haul the girl out of her desk by her black, sheeny hair and march her to the Head’s study, when suddenly Amelia rose from her chair, saying this was very unfair, but she would go, almost as if she was doing her teacher a favour.

When Amelia had departed, everyone tried to get on with the lesson as if nothing had happened. But everyone was shaken and not concentrating, not least Alison Jenkins, who kept asking herself if her flash of temper was due to her own forthcoming visit to Miss Carruthers. She kept answering herself that Amelia had been heading for the high jump for a very long time.

*          *          *

“Hold out your right hand girl!”

There was a very flexible cane in Miss Carruthers’ own right hand.

Amelia felt totally subdued and also very ashamed. She had endured well over an hour’s wait to see Miss Carruthers, and then her excuses had been treated with total disdain. She had been subjected to a ferocious and seemingly endless tirade, detailing her sins ever since she had entered the school, which Miss Carruthers seemed to remember in more detail than she did herself. After a while, tears of genuine remorse had flowed, but that had no effect on the Headmistress, whose ferocious voice continued to shriek. At least, now they had got to the punishment and no doubt soon it would be over.

She shut her eyes and held her hand out. The cane lashed hard once and hurt a lot. She instinctively clenched her hand.

“Hold out your left hand.”

Amelia did it, feeling this was odd as her only previous caning had been two on each hand for copying in a class test and this surely was much more serious.

Again, one hard painful lash, but only one, and she just about bit back her strong desire to shriek.

“Now bend over, girl”

“Please don’t top and tail me.” Amelia cried out, realizing she was about to be subjected to that rare but much feared punishment.

“Bend over girl and put your hands on your knees, now.”

Amelia almost panicked and put her hands up across her bottom, but a small voice said just in time that if she refused to obey she might well be expelled. She very reluctantly reached down and gripped her knees. She felt her small trim bottom rise up and her school knickers tighten as her slip and skirt were pulled up. Then five searing lashes across the bare top of her thighs and she felt the welts rise and heard herself howling for mercy.

*          *          *

It was now past Five-thirty and Alison, standing outside the door, heard quite a lot of the caning. She was very divided between feeling this was all very barbaric and at the same time very well deserved. She half wondered if something like this might help her out of her own difficulties, but it did not seem a very likely possibility. She was going to be fired beyond any reasonable doubt.

Presumably Amelia was allowed time to recover. At any rate, there was a very definite pause before the very shaken Sixth Former emerged. Her eyes were very red and she clearly had been crying a great deal, but she now seemed to have stopped.

“What are you doing here, Miss?” Amelia asked with surprising presence of mind.

“Oh, I’ve got to see the Head about something quite different. I hope you are alright Amelia.  What did you get?”

“One on each hand, Miss, and five on the back of my legs. That really hurt, Miss.” Amelia said ruefully, but not particularly resentfully.

“Yes, it sounded like it. I am not sure I would have sent you if I’d known it was going to be that severe.”

“I really did not give you much option, Miss. I am a Sixth Former, Miss, and I should have known a great deal better. Miss Carruthers said that. I am sorry about the mouse, Miss.”

“Well as far as I am concerned it is quite forgiven. Come and have a cup of tea in my study later this evening if you like.”

“Thank you Miss, I’d like that.”

Amelia strode off.

But now Alison had other things to worry about. Miss Carruthers was there, beckoning her into her study and apologising for keeping her waiting. Alison found herself shivering slightly as she was beckoned to sit in a chair facing Miss Carruthers across her desk.

“First of all I must congratulate you on the very brave action you took this afternoon.” The headmistress began.

“What on earth?” Alison thought.

“It was very, very brave of you to send that girl to me. Most of my staff would have chickened out from sending such a senior and bumptious creature for punishment. Well done. That girl has been in need of severe discipline for years.”

“Thank you Headmistress!” Alison said, and meant it for she had been more than half expecting a rebuke for not being able control her class.

“Now, this little matter of Miss Wilmott and your adventures in Brighton. She tells me that you were with Mr John Hickson, the well-known MP who,  I have been told by several people who know about these things, is very well known as a womaniser, not that these things make it into the papers; they always keep the peccadilloes of our politicians and nobility discreetly out of the public eye. Something tells me that you did not know who he was. Leaving aside that you lied about saying he was your childhood friend, Mr Penhaligon, who did you think he was?”

“He said he was called R-Robert Sm-smith.” Alison stuttered.

“And no doubt you imagined he was very much in love with you.”

“Yes I did.”

“Well we all make mistakes when we are young. I could tell you about events at country house parties in the days of the great King Edward, who was a pretty dreadful womaniser himself, but I won’t. Just take my advice, Miss Jenkins, and the next time that you imagine you are in love with a man, wait a little before you yield too much. Was he good in bed incidentally?”

“Very good indeed.” Said Alison blushing and wondering at this strange frankness; it had never entered her head that this stout aging woman had a history.

“I have persuaded Miss Wilmott and the Chairman of my governors that you are essentially a very moral young woman and the Mr John Hicksons of this world are liable to lead even the most moral girls astray. So, provided you don’t get caught out again, and please in future do be more discrete, Miss Jenkins, you are safe. And congratulations on this afternoon. You will be a headmistress one day, I think.”

Alison left the Headmistress’s study in a state of total bewilderment.

The End

© Jane Fairweather 2017

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