The headmaster resolves not to make a drama out of a crisis. Nevertheless, a senior girl learns a painful lesson
By Kenny Walters
“Fiona McPherson is here, headmaster. You wanted a word with her.” My secretary said as she peered round the door.
“Thanks, Jenny. Show her in, please.”
I got up and went round my desk over to where a couple of comfortable armchairs were positioned for when more informal discussions were called for.
“Come in, Fiona. Have a seat.” I waved the slim blonde haired girl towards one of the armchairs and sat down with her. Dressed in blue jeans and a red sweater, her lack of uniform was significant. Always a shy girl, Fiona was even more reticent than usual.
“I hear you’re intending to leave us, Fiona.”
She nodded. “It seems best, sir.”
“I don’t see it as best for the school, Fiona. I know you’ve come to us very late in your scholastic career but you seem to be doing very well. I thought you liked it here.”
“Oh, I do sir. But, well, you know….”
“This isn’t about the tennis pavilion, is it?”
Fiona nodded, her face sinking ashamedly down practically into her chest.
“I’m not sure I understand, Fiona. There is, of course no question of you being expelled over that.”
Fiona looked up briefly, obvious surprised.
“After all, I’m sure it was a complete accident. I doubt very much you had any intention of burning the place down deliberately, did you?”
“Oh no, sir.”
“Well then, why do you feel the need to deprive us of your presence here?”
“But it was me… my cigarette that caused the fire, sir.”
“Yes, that was the most likely cause, although I’m not sure even that has been conclusively established. But even if it was, why do you feel the need to leave us?”
“I don’t know, sir.” Fiona was at least looking me in the eye occasionally now. “I’m ashamed, I suppose.”
“Yes, yes I can see that. But we are here to help you – me, the staff, the other girls, we all could help you with that. That is, of course, if you would let us.”
Fiona sat upright and gave a big sigh, clearly surprised at how this interview was unfolding.
“You see, Fiona,” I continued. “St. Martha’s is a family school. I know your mother was never here, but very often we get generation after generation coming here. We like to think it’s a friendly, happy school where pupils really want to be here. Like most families, we have our little problems from time to time, but we like to work together to get through them. And I think you’ll find that most problems are more easily solved by having people around you, helping you.”
She nodded, mulling over what I had said to her.
“Is there no way I can persuade you to reconsider leaving us?”
“But what about the tennis pavilion, sir?”
“It will be fixed in the fullness of time, like anything else that fails to function properly.”
“And that’s it, sir?” She looked at me somewhat incredulously.
“Yes.” I answered. “You have to realise, Fiona, this is still all rather raw at the moment. It only happened yesterday, and we’re still getting over the excitement of the fire engines and all that. Perhaps tomorrow, were you still to be with us, we might have to have a little chat over your smoking on the school premises. That is, after all, a breach of one of the more serious rules we have here. But that, I think, would best be left for tomorrow when everything has settled down somewhat.”
Fiona looked at her watch. “My mother is due to ‘phone me soon, sir. Her flight touches down at Heathrow in a few minutes time.”
“She’s not flown home all the way from India because of yesterday, has she?”
“In that case, you’d better go and take her call. But please think carefully over what we’ve said. If you want another chat, do please come and find me. And obviously if your mother would like to speak to me I shall be very happy to do so.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
It can’t have been much more than an hour before I had Fiona’s mother on the telephone to me. She desperately wanted to come and speak to me that evening, and couldn’t be persuaded to leave it until the following day. I agreed to see her and she arrived at about six-fifteen with Fiona.
“Good evening, Mrs McPherson. It’s good to see you again.” I shook the lady’s hand, vaguely remembering her from when she deposited Fiona with us some ten months previously. “Do have a seat. And you, Fiona.” I ushered them both into the two armchairs across the study from my desk and brought a plain office chair from a corner of the room for myself. “Now, how can I help?”
“Well, Mr Cunningham. When Fiona telephoned me yesterday and told me what had happened, I caught the first available flight. Of course.”
“I’m really sorry you felt the need to do that, Mrs McPherson. I’m sure it wasn’t really necessary, you know. And do please call me James. All the parents do.”
“I must say Mr…, sorry, James. I must say, James, that I’m quite amazed at how you’re taking all this. I’m sure Fiona’s previous school would have flung her out on her ear before the flames had even been extinguished.”
“Really? That seems so sad. No, as I was saying to Fiona earlier, we like to think of ourselves as a family here and to work our way together through problems as they arise.”
“Yes, but what of the damage that was caused. Think of how much more serious it could have been. Someone could even have been injured. Surely there has to be some consequence, for Fiona, I mean.”
“I think if we go through life worrying about the ‘what if’ factor, we won’t get very far at all, Mrs McPherson. Let’s face it, Fiona wasn’t the first girl to have smoked in some odd corner or other of the school, and she certainly won’t be the last. Think how many cigarette ends are thrown away without them setting fire to anything.”
Well, yes, but it just doesn’t seem right that she should walk away from this without any action at all being taken against her. And do please call me Anne.”
“I think we need to separate things out here, Anne. Fiona didn’t deliberately set out to set fire to anything. It would be a totally different matter if she had, although I still like to think we could have handled that too.
“Certainly, if Fiona does remain with us, and I sincerely hope she does, then I will need to have a little chat with her about smoking on the school premises – something I think should happen perhaps tomorrow when everything has settled down again.”
“Oh, I think Fiona has already learnt her lesson after yesterday’s events, James.”
“I’m sure, but she did break an important school rule and of course we will need to deal with that.”
“So, there would be a consequence for the smoking but not causing the fire?”
“Exactly, Anne. The first was an act in breach of school rules, the second was an accident, and we will deal with the matter in that light.
“Yes, I see your point.” Anne McPherson thought for a few moments. “Yes, I do see your point. And presumably Fiona and you have discussed how you might deal with that?”
“Oh, I think every schoolgirl in the land knows how that is dealt with.” I smiled, and Fiona blushed.
Anne McPherson looked blank. “I’m sorry, how would you deal with that exactly? Presumably there would be some kind of punishment.”
“Yes indeed, Anne. I’m sure Fiona would be expecting the cane to come out and I suppose the traditional six strokes is about par for the course for this sort of thing.”
“You’d cane her?”
“Obviously I’d have a chat to Fiona and at some point we’d discuss what would be a fair and reasonable punishment. I wouldn’t want to pre-empt that discussion, and maybe we’d decide there were some mitigating factors that might reduce the punishment by a stroke or two, or maybe we’d feel the slipper might be more suitable. The again, we might feel we need to be a little more robust. That’s all for another day, though.”
From her serious expression, I gained the feeling Anne McPherson was not now quite so certain about Fiona being allowed to remain with us.
“So, you would need to punish Fiona, James?”
“When any girl is caught breaking rules there is usually a punishment involved. Not always, but usually.”
Anne McPherson turned to her daughter. “And how do you feel about that, darling?”
Fiona shrugged. “I did break the rules, mummy.”
“Yes, but in view of what you’ve just heard… How do you feel about that?”
Fiona ran a hand nervously through her long blonde hair. “I do like it here, and I’d like to stay on and take my A-levels here.”
“Despite what James, your headmaster, has just said.”
Fiona simply nodded.
“And this meeting would take place tomorrow, would it James?”
“That is what I was planning, yes Anne.”
“Could I be present?”
“I’d be very happy with that, Anne, presuming Fiona has no objections.”
I looked at Fiona, wondering how an eighteen year old might feel about her mother being present at a disciplinary meeting with her headmaster.
“No, that’s fine.”
“Okay, shall we make it eleven o’clock tomorrow morning?” I felt it was time to bring this session to an end.
Promptly at eleven o’clock the following morning, Fiona and Anne McPherson entered my study. In view of the more formal nature of this meeting, I invited them to sit in front of my desk where I had placed two upright office chairs. I noted that Fiona now wore the light grey uniform trousers and black blazer of the school’s sixth form.
“May I presume that Fiona will indeed be spending the remainder of her school year with us?” I looked towards the slim blonde girl for my answer.
“She will, James.” The response came from Fiona’s mother.
“Good! That’s very good news.”
“Thank you, sir.” Fiona responded.
I smiled, and Fiona did too. Only Anne McPherson remained tight-lipped and solemn.
“Right, then perhaps we can deal with the one outstanding matter, which is that you, Fiona, have been found to be smoking on the school premises. I presume you do admit to that?”
“Yes, sir.” Fiona answered very softly.
“And you are aware that smoking, or even bringing smoking materials into school, is regarded as quite a serious matter?”
“Are there any mitigating factors that you would like to mention, Fiona?”
“Not really, sir. No.”
“Very well. It seems to me, then Fiona, you did quite knowingly break the rules by smoking on the school premises and must therefore expect to pay the price. Is that correct?”
“Okay. Now the usual punishment for that is the cane, six strokes. On the face of it, Fiona, I can see no reason why you should not receive that as your punishment. Can you?”
“No, sir.” Fiona spoke very quietly. I could sense her increasing nervousness.
“In that case, unless you have anything further to say, I suggest we get it over with. Okay?”
“Is there anything you wish to say, Anne?”
“Not really, thank you James.”
“Okay. Now Fiona, I’m sure you know already, but I’ll spell it out just in case you are not aware, you’ll be receiving the cane across your bottom. Did you know that?”
Fiona blushed. “Yes, sir. I mean, I didn’t know but I thought maybe that might be the case.”
“Good. Now, the second thing, and again you may already know this, is that you are allowed one layer of clothing as protection. This protects your modesty but allows you to feel the benefit of the punishment, if I may put it that way.”
Fiona looked worried, and a little confused, as did her mother.
“That means, you can either go off and change into your games kit and wear shorts with nothing allowed underneath, or you may simply drop your trousers and be punished across your underwear if you prefer. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir.” Fiona frowned.
Mrs McPherson seemed about to say something, but managed to contain herself.
“What would you like to do, Fiona? Go and change or just drop your trousers?”
“I’ll just drop my trousers, sir.”
“Okay.” I got up from my desk. “In that case, Fiona, if you would like to stand up and take your blazer off, please.”
Fiona did as I had asked, and handed the blazer to her mother who folded it carefully and laid it down on the end of my desk.
“Now, if you would just step forward close to the front of the desk, please. You can slip your trousers down now and tuck your blouse up, I won’t be a moment.”
Leaving Fiona to get on with that task, I went over to a cupboard where I keep my small stock of canes on several hooks and opened the door. I chose one that was about three eights of an inch thick, maybe four feet long, and like all the others, had a crook handle. I examined it carefully to ensure it was in good order, then turned to face Fiona. Her trousers were pretty well down to her ankles, and her mother was helping her tuck the white blouse up leaving Fiona naked from the bottom of her rib-cage down to her lower shins, all bar a brief pair of white knickers.
As I approached the front of my desk where Fiona was standing, Mrs McPherson completed the task of folding up Fiona’s blouse and sat back.
“That’s good.” I commented. “If you would bend across the desk when you are ready, please Fiona.”
I heard the eighteen year old breath in before she began to lean forward. Her hands reached down for the surface of the desk, the elbows followed, and then the hands reached out for the further edge of the desk as Fiona’s body was lowered onto the desk top. This left her hips slightly away from the desk and her bottom down a little from the level of the desk.
“Could you slide forward a little, please Fiona. We just want to get your bottom up a bit.”
Fiona did as she was told and in a moment her bottom was perfectly presented for a good application of the cane. I wasted no time in laying the cane gently across the seat of her white knickers, sizing up the first stroke to fall directly in the centre of her neat round backside. Aside from a slight flinch as the cane rested on the soft white material, and a firm ‘gritted teeth’ expression, Fiona seemed perfectly resigned to her situation. Her mother, on the other hand, appeared very concerned.
I drew the cane back, held it poised, then sent the first stroke whistling through the air until the cane thwacked across the seat of Fiona’s stretched white cotton knickers. She grunted and screwed her eyes up at the sharpness of the pain, and her body snatched in reaction, but otherwise she lay still to await the next delivery.
Bringing the cane well back, I rocked it in my hand a couple of times to get a good grip, aimed for the soft round bottom that awaited my attentions, a spot a touch lower than before, and leaned into the stroke. The cane whooshed through the air and delivered another whippy stroke across Fiona’s waiting bottom. Yes, she grunted again, possibly a little more loudly, her eyes screwed up again, her body jerked, but again she did nothing else other than to remain across the desk, patiently waiting for the next stroke.
Conscious of Fiona’s mother watching my every move, I let the cane back and fixed my gaze on the daughter’s invitingly rounded backside, sensing the next stroke should be aimed higher to spread the effects of the punishment. I sent the slim implement whistling down and brought it whippingly across the upper portions of the girl’s thinly clad bottom. The tip of the cane appeared to catch and slightly dig into the top right buttock before it glanced away and above the target area, and I reckoned that would leave an angry little mark that would remind Fiona of her punishment for a day or two at least. Indeed, the sound of Fiona ‘ouching’ rather vigorously, and jerking her body with more venom seemed to support my assessment.
Perhaps I was over-compensating, but I aimed the next stroke much lower down catching Fiona just above the tops of her thighs. Another quite sharp snatch of her body, coupled with the inevitable ‘ouch’, suggested that stroke was almost as painful as the previous one. Fiona’s mother was beginning to look extremely concerned at the agonies her daughter was going through.
I resolved to direct the final two strokes plumb in the centre of Fiona’s bottom. Drawing the cane slowly back, I stared down at Fiona’s attractive round bottom clad in those brief white pants, an easy sight for the eye to behold. With an extra flick back, I swung the cane down and whipped across the centre of that lovely bottom. A sudden sharp snatch and a brief cry of pain confirmed the effectiveness once again, and I allowed the cane to fall away.
Now for the final stroke. My eyes settled back happily onto the round firm knicker clad bottom as I drew the cane back for the last time that day. For a moment, I wondered whether I would ever have the spectacle of that knicker clad bottom before me again in such circumstances, and sadly doubted it. Suddenly, I swished the cane swiftly down and brought it hard against Fiona’s bottom.
Immediately, Fiona flinched sharply against the impact of the cane and she gasped noisily in unison before settling down flat on the surface of the desk. She looked out of the corner of her eye towards me, I’m sure seeking confirmation that was it for today.
“Okay, Fiona. Well done. Up you get and get your trousers on.”
I wheeled away and went to return the cane to its cupboard. As I closed the cupboard door and turned once more, Fiona was standing and tugging her trousers up with her mother’s assistance. By the time I had returned to my desk, Fiona was just finishing fastening her trousers. I sat and waited until she had replaced her blazer too.
“Not too bad, I hope, Fiona.”
“No, sir.” Fiona answered with a gasp. “Quite fair, really sir.”
I risked a half-glance in Mrs McPherson’s direction.
“Certainly a short sharp shock, James.”
“Good. Well, that puts that little matter to rest once and for all. Agreed?”
Mrs McPherson didn’t speak.
“Well, ladies, if that is all…?”
Fiona and her mother soon departed, strangely the one with the sore backside seemingly more content than the one without.”