The First Time

A headmistress has to deal with a recalcitrant girl

By Rob Burton

I stood staring out of the window at the skyline. The light grey clouds interspersed with whiter ones and, in the distant, a glimmer of blue sky. I became conscious I had folded my arms behind my back and smiled to myself as I remembered my mum saying it was a dead giveaway that I was nervous about something. Indeed I was nervous for shortly I was about to cane a girl. My first time.

I had been appointed Headmistress of Sutherland School for Girls last July and this was my first term. The school had a very good academic record and even more of a reputation in the field of sports. Indeed it had been national title holders for hockey five out of the last six years. So I had big shoes to fill and I had been very determined to repay the faith the Governors had shown in me.

Whilst this was my first Headship, I had been Deputy Head at my previous school so I was not without a certain knowledge of how things run. All except when it came to corporal punishment. My previous school did not use that method of punishment except in very, very serious matters and in the six years I had been there I was unaware that it was used. The Headmaster had other ways of dealing with pupils who transgressed the rules and I believe it worked successfully. I am sure that it was the good record of the school that counted heavily when they appointed me. I was sad to leave the school and particularly John Abbott, the Headmaster, but I went with his blessing and kind words of encouragement.

Sutherland school did have a more rigid punishment policy and Sir Charles Wentworth, the Chair of the Governors, did indeed explain this at our first meeting. He also said that was now my school and it was up to me how I implemented the school policies. I assured him that I would deal with each case on its merits and I hoped that I could maintain the excellent traditions of the school. I liked Sir Charles; he wasn’t too stuffy and seemed to have quite a modern outlook despite his years.

I began my work in the third week of August, no six weeks holiday for me this year, as I had a new school to get up to speed with, new challenges and a completely new way of working. So by the second Monday in September I was more than prepared to welcome the girls, old and new, back to Sutherland. It was very busy few weeks but everything went smoothly thanks to all the staff and pupils as well.

By the end of November, and with Christmas fast upon us, I reflected how quickly the time had flown and how seemingly smooth things were running. In fact I am sure that the school would have functioned whether I was there or not. In that time I had seen ten girls in my office for rule infractions that the teachers deemed something more stern than a word by them. Only one I saw as something more than a chat and a warning about their future conduct. Even that, whilst it was girl who decided to leave school without permission, in some cases it could earn a girl a sore bottom, I gave the first time transgressor the benefit of her previous exemplary record and gave her two nights detention. Even the actual number of detentions was down from last year which made me smile when I presented my report last week at the Governors meeting.

It all changed last Monday, the 5th December to be precise, and hence why I am anxiously staring out the window awaiting the three-thirty appointment with Elizabeth Kent. She was an above average pupil even by this schools academic standard. She was poplar with all teachers and also had, it seems, many friends within her year. So when I was walking along the upper floor corridor and heard raised voices coming from a classroom, I immediately stopped and listened. It was lunchtime and the there was no else about; too busy filling themselves with lunch of some concoction or other. That is where I was going for my date with a meat and potato pie when I was distracted. What I heard actually shocked me. Even after all these years as a teacher I had never heard a pupil shout with such ferocity. The teacher, Mrs Hampton, for her part kept herself calm and tried to diffuse the situation. It seems that this was not working. I had little choice but to enter the classroom and investigate further. I knocked and entered.

The room fell silent as I walked across to the desk where the two of them stood. I asked Mrs Hampton for an explanation of why I could hear raised voices in the corridor. It seems that Elizabeth did not accept she should get a detention for persistent talking in class as she thought it was unfair that she was singled out and another girl not get one. Also it meant she would have to miss netball practice and therefore she would not make this week’s team. The pupil had gotten very frustrated that the teacher wouldn’t accept her apology and rescind the detention and had resorted to her loud disapproval.

I sent Elizabeth to have her lunch and then report to my office so we could have a further chat about the incident. I listened further to Mrs Hampton, who herself was quite shocked at what had happened. I assured her that the matter would be dealt with in an appropriate manner and that I would see her later in the staff room.

I got my meat and potato pie and it was delicious. The kitchen staff always made nice lunches but this was a particular favourite of mine. After which I strolled back to my office. Elizabeth was waiting outside when I arrived. I ushered her in and closed the door behind us. She was quiet as she stood in front of my desk. I composed myself and waited a moment before speaking; I had spent the time whilst eating contemplating what I would say. This was by far the worst incident I had needed to deal with so far and I wanted to make sure I got it right. I also did not want a repeat of the shouting I heard less than an hour ago.

“Elizabeth could you please explain to me why you thought that shouting at Mrs Hampton would make her change her mind about the detention.”

I sat back in my chair and folded my arms as I waited for an answer. I wondered what she expected me to ask her.

“I honestly don’t know, miss. I got myself very frustrated at her refusal to listen to my explanation and I got worked up and it ended up with me getting loud. I am so sorry for what happened and I will apologise to Mrs Hampton straight after this.”

I have to say I was impressed with her words. It was not just an ‘I dunno, miss, I am sorry, miss’ apology she had obviously thought what to say over her lunch as well.

“Your words and apology do you credit, Elizabeth. However I cannot overlook your refusal to accept the detention issued by a teacher and indeed that you took it upon yourself to argue the matter and continued to argue your point to where it became so loud that it could be heard in a corridor.”

I saw her twiddle her fingers as her eyes looked towards the carpet. A hint of blush red adorned her cheeks.

“Perhaps you can explain to me why you thought Mrs Hampton was wrong to give a detention for persistent talking.”

Again the hesitation whilst she thought about my question. It showed she at least had some idea why she was in trouble.

“I thought Mrs Hampton was unfair because I wasn’t the only one talking. There were two other girls involved.”

“Perhaps, but am I right in thinking that one sat in front and one behind. Therefore I assume that you did twice as much talking as them. Would it also be correct that you were seen starting a conversation twice before Mrs Hampton finally put a stop to it?

Silence returned to the room whilst she again pondered my words.

“Yes, that is true. I do realise that I was totally out of order and I should not have taken the matter further after class,” she said with a noticeable tremble in her last words.

“I can honestly say that in all my years in teaching that I have never heard a pupil shout at a teacher. In fact I have never heard a pupil even raise their voice to one. This is a very sad day for the school, Elizabeth Kent.”

I leant forward and placed my elbows on the oak desktop to emphasis my disappointment. I thought about what I should do next. My first instinct was to send the girl home until such time as I had spoken to her parents. Yet I also thought about what John would have done in this situation. He would have sent the girl back to class until such time as he had weighed up all the options. There was never a knee jerk reaction to a problem, it was always thought about in the cold light of day.

“Now, Elizabeth, in a moment you can return to class. At break time you will see Mrs Hampton and make that apology. I have no doubt that it will be sincere but I will see her later and ask. You will also attend the detention she has given you and again I will check that you have attended it. Finally, you and I will have another meeting on Friday at three-thirty so I can tell you what punishment I have decided upon for your disgraceful behaviour. And at this moment all options are open to me.”

I saw a single tear roll slowly down her cheek as I dismissed her. She turned to the door and then turned back again.

“I am so very sorry, miss, for all the trouble I have caused,” she said as she wiped the teardrop away. Again she turned and left my office quickly.

She was good to her word and gave a heartfelt apology for her actions to Mrs Hampton who, being the big softy that she is, gave her a hug. Also the detention room on Wednesday did see Elizabeth for the first time in her school career.

I sat with my arms on the desk as Elizabeth walked in through the opened door and stood in front of the desk. I noticed how smart she looked in her uniform. Her shoes were polished, her stockings weren’t wrinkled, her white shirt was ironed and tucked in, the blazer had all the buttons on. Uniform and general smartness was something that I tried to instil within all the pupils but no matter what you said or did some girls would always look untidy. Even if they had the best designer dress money could buy, it would not look good on them.

Her head was upright and looking ahead, although her eyes were looking down towards the carpet. Her left hand twitched, know doubt with nerves as she waited to find what her fate was. The wait she had endured since Monday afternoon, not knowing what her punishment was to be exactly.

“Well, Elizabeth, I do not need to go through again the circumstances of why you are here. I am sure, like me, you want to put a line under this matter and move forward.”

I paused for a moment as I saw her left hand clench tightly in anticipation.

“I have thought long and hard about your punishment. Due to the seriousness of the matter there were a number of courses open to me, including expulsion.”

I saw her eyes widen at the mention of the word.

“However, due to your previous good record at the school I decided that was a step too far. I also had an option to involve your parents and the school governors, but again I thought that the matter was best dealt with within these four walls.”

Again I paused and looked at Elizabeth. Her twitch was more noticeable and her hand was clenching and unclenching, I suspect involuntarily.

“You will receive six strokes of the cane,” I finally said.

I waited for a response from her, but clearly she had nothing to say as she stood unmoved except for her clenching hand. I’m not sure if she was expecting that or just dumbstruck.

“I know that you have never had the cane before but your disgraceful behaviour last Monday warrants this severe punishment.”

Her eyes widened a moment before they closed. I suspect that she knew in her heart that she would be getting corporal punishment, probably hoping that it would be the slipper and not the dreaded cane. The one she would have heard about, possibly not from her friends but a friend of a friend, would have known all about it as they sat in class when a tearful girl returned from a summons to see the Headmistress. How gingerly they had sat on the hard wooden chair and how much they had fidgeted to get comfortable for the rest of the lesson.

“If you would place your blazer on the seat and take a position in front of my desk,” I said in a quiet voice as I stood before going to the cupboard behind.

Inside there was amongst many things two canes, one a junior and one a senior. I selected the senior one. It was a dark yellow colour and nearly three foot long with traditional curved handle. It scared me and I wasn’t about to be on the end of it.

The black skirt tightened over her bottom as she bent slowly over the desk. I watched as she placed her upper body on the oak top and adjusted her position. The brown, almost black, hair slipped to cover her face for a moment before she tucked it behind her ear. Then she put the palms of her hands flat in front of her and the legs straightened as her thigh almost touched the edge. I waited a moment, not consciously, for Elizabeth to finish getting ready.

I raised the cane that had I been dangling by the curved handle against my leg and took the two paces closer. Tap, tap lightly with it as I adjusted myself so that I had the right swing. Then came the realisation that I didn’t know how hard to strike the cane against her bottom. I had swung it in practice before, even this morning I had taken it out of the cupboard and swished through the air. Suddenly I realised that swishing it through the air was not going to be the same as whacking it down on to the upturned bottom of a schoolgirl bent over my desk. Never having seen one used before it suddenly dawned on me that it didn’t know exactly what to do. I was scared that I might wield the instrument of pain too hard. Certainly I wanted to chastise the girl but I didn’t want to inflict too much pain. Tap, tap again against her bum, I pondered what I should do. Could I cancel it and ask advice from someone, but who? I didn’t know anyone, except my old headmistress, who had used a cane and she was well past retiring age. I had also seen the results of her handiwork on girls as they changed for PE.

It was too late to do anything about it now. I had no choice but to carry on and hope that my good sense would see me, and more important Elizabeth, through this. Another tap, tap on her bottom. I bet the poor girl is screaming out for me to get it over with. Here goes, I said to myself as I raised the cane to shoulder height. I swung it back towards the middle of the tight black skirt and hoped it would land somewhere near. Well it landed somewhere close as I felt the force of it reflex against my wrist. The cane was about a foot away from the target as I looked at Elizabeth and waited for a reaction. Nothing more than a small movement of her shoulders. She either had resolved that she would take her punishment without fuss or it wasn’t hard enough to register any real pain.

I decided to try it a little harder for number two as I waited another few seconds before again bringing the cane to shoulder height. This time it was dead centre and I heard the whack against her skirt. Yet again there was hardly a reaction. The shoulders moved but her face, which I could only see partly as it was turned away from me, did not register a movement.

Numbers three and four were almost identical in deliverance but number four certainly got her right leg twitching and I heard an intake of breath. I lowered the cane and took a step back. I think we both needed a minute or so to compose ourselves. Turning away towards the door I suddenly realise I hadn’t activated the red light button to prevent anyone from entering inadvertently. I quick clicked it on and felt myself blush at the thought of someone seeing the spectacle of a pupil being caned.

When I looked back at the prone girl I noticed her hair had come from behind her ear. It obscured what little I could see altogether now. Tap, tap I took aim again and delivered the fifth of the six. It landed a little higher, certainly higher than I had wanted. The bottom jiggled immediately after cane sprung away from it. The shoulders left the table briefly before settling back down to the table. I gave her a little more time before I stepped towards the offered bottom for the last time. I swung the implement of correction up and down quickly. It caught her just below the middle and I knew immediately it had caught her harder than the rest as the cane swung back further after it had landed. To her credit, Elizabeth took it amazingly well as only her shoulders shook and legs twisted for a mere few seconds before she lay still on the desk.

I told her she could get up as I placed the cane back in the cupboard. She wiped away tears from her cheeks before standing, her arms by her side. I wasn’t sure what I should say; I mean, do you congratulate a girl for taking her punishment well or do you commiserate with her. I took out the punishment book and decided not to say anything yet. Stealing a glance or two I was amazed that she just stood with hardly a movement as I completed the details of the punishment. The first one entered in the book since April 6th of this year, just over seven months without a bottom having to be smacked. It was actually over eight months since the cane had been used, I noticed, as the two entries before today were both for four strokes of the slipper.

“Thank you, Elizabeth, you may put on your blazer,” I said as I closed the book and returned it to the bottom drawer with a thought that it would hopefully remain there for the rest of the school year.

Once she was back in full uniform I stood and walked towards the door.

“You may go home, Elizabeth, as it close to the final bell time.”

I clicked the button and heard the door release as I opened it for her. I did think about saying have a good weekend but quickly dismissed it from my mind as very inappropriate in the circumstances.

I closed the door once again and leant against it. So my first caning was over. I can tell you it was a relief that it was all done and finished as I shut my eyes and took a deep breath before exhaling loudly. I repeated it as it felt so good. I rested like that for a few moments or perhaps it was minutes as I had lost track of time. I knew it was nearly home time but not the exact time.

I opened my eyes at the shrill sound of the last bell. Making my way back to the desk I tided away a few papers, trying not to think about what had just happened but it was vivid in my head. The sight and sound of the cane whacking against the skirt, the little movements of her body as it struck. I wondered also what the red marks were like that would be left on the skin of her bottom. This was my penance now. No wonder John was reluctant to use the cane if it left you feeling like this after each time it was wielded in anger. As I put on my coat some ten minutes later I pondered would it have been easier if the pupil was a regular troublemaker. Who knows, maybe I will find out one day.

The End

© Rob Burton 2015


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