A girl is called to the headmaster’s study knowing the fate that awaits her, even if the reason is a little unusual.

By Susan Thomas

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.” (W. Somerset Maugham)

Sarah walked down the corridor towards the headmaster’s office. She had been summoned and it was making her very nervous, for she had a fairly good idea why.

St Amelia’s Academy was not unique in having a male head but it was unique in that it had a one hundred year old tradition of only appointing men to head up the predominantly female establishment. It was also not unique in having a headmaster that caned the girls, though that was by no means common, but St Amelia’s headmaster used corporal punishment on any girl from the youngest right through to the senior girls in the upper sixth. It didn’t matter if a girl was already nineteen and had just one week to go before leaving; if she had done something wrong she could still be caned. Sarah and all the girls were proud of the school and its traditions, proud of the caning tradition that made them the equal of the boys at their brother school five miles away.

Not that Dr Stephen Morgan-Holdsworth was a brutal man, no not at all. He was a highly intelligent and sensitive man, very kind and at times even very gentle; he never shouted or even raised his voice to the girls, of course he had no real need in a girls’ school. They were all too willing to conform to the high expectations of them. No, the good Headmaster was a pleasant man, trusted, indeed loved by the girls. He did, however, have an almost Old Testament attitude to misbehaviour. If a girl did something wrong punishment must follow. He would treat her kindly but she must suffer the consequences of her actions.

There was in fact just one week to go before the end of the school year and it was Dr Morgan-Holdsworth that had now summoned Sarah, not that she was in the upper sixth but only the lower sixth. Seventeen years old by a week and a day and trying hard to keep up the pose of a confident young lady. It was hard though because she was almost certain she knew the reason for the summons.

When Sarah arrived at the outer office Mrs Wilkens, his secretary, was just packing up to go home. It was quite late in the afternoon and most girls were already on their way out of school to enjoy the summer sunshine.

“Dr Morgan-Holdsworth sent for me, Mrs Wilkens.”

Mrs Wilkens smiled. She was a pleasant motherly lady and stopped her packing up to buzz the headmaster’s office. “Sarah Lytham here to see you, headmaster.”

The intercom made a funny squawking noise and she smiled and told Sarah to go straight on in. Sarah was very nervous now but trying hard to conceal it. The headmaster looked up and he too smiled as she walked in and gestured to a chair for her to sit down. Sarah sat, her back straight, her skirt pulled modestly over her knees, her knees firmly together and her hands together resting on her knees. She was, with her neat smart uniform, the very picture of a perfect schoolgirl.

“Sarah, I have been reviewing your record here at St Amelia’s.”

This was it, what she had thought it might be.

“I have also talked to the staff and Elizabeth our Head Girl.”

Yes, oh yes, it was coming.

“And have decided, with the approval of our governors, to offer you the post of Head Girl for next year.”

Sarah had wanted this since she had been a first year. Her parents had wanted it too, though they would never by word or deed criticise her should she not get it; her father had been head boy in his day at the brother school and her mother head girl at St Amelia’s itself. Sarah sighed with satisfaction, she vowed to herself that she would be the best head girl ever since her mother had left the school.

“Thank you sir, I am honoured. I’ll do my very best to live up to the standards expected of a head girl.”

St Amelia’s had high standards in everything. It was one of the best schools academically and in sporting achievement too; St Amelia’s girls were also noted for their very good behaviour but it went beyond that. The school could have driven academic and sporting achievement still higher to be the very best but it didn’t. The girls were expected to have a social conscience and act on it. Girls from the school were active locally visiting the elderly, singing at homes for the elderly infirm, helping out with Brownies and Cubs, hearing readers at the primary schools and raising funds for local charities. Yes, the girls were proud of the school and its expectations.

Now the headmaster looked uncomfortable, “I am not sure Sarah, whether you are aware of the old custom that is associated with the appointment of a new head girl. Perhaps your mother?”

There had always been rumours around this subject. It was supposed to be a secret, but the custom was now so old, going back to the very early days of the first headmaster, that the secret bled out into the community drop by drop. Her mother had warned her of the custom though she wasn’t really supposed to do so. Now Sarah passed from the nervousness she had felt as to whether she was to be offered the head girl’s post to one of sheer funk; she had known this would come up if she did get the offer and it scared her silly.

The first headmaster had at some point decided it wasn’t fair, particularly on the older girls, to have to go alone into the study to be caned by him. He had arranged that the head girl at the time would both witness the caning and support the girl being caned (or birched as that had been used right back then). This then created a further problem, for most head girls had not experienced any corporal punishment or at least nothing more than a few whacks with a slipper or ruler across the hands in their early years at the school. They lacked any real understanding of what the poor girl on the receiving end was going through. The custom therefore developed that the head girl designate had to accept a severe dose of corporal punishment before she could be confirmed in the post. Two designated girls over the last ninety years had withdrawn, all others had accepted and taken the underserved punishment.

“Yes mum did sort of warn me because we really hoped you would make this offer, but she was light on details.”

“If I am honest, Amelia, I have never been entirely comfortable with this custom but with one as old as this, and with so many old girls on the governing body, it is not something that will be changed in the near future. The head girl designate is expected to accept the most severe punishment available to the headmaster at that time. These days the most severe is nine strokes of the punishment cane.

“That caning is the nearest equivalent to the boys getting nine of the best. The girl on the receiving end must remove her skirt and underskirt and adjust her knickers so that in effect she is getting the same bare bottom caning the boys get. It is not an easy option Sarah, but the custom is that the designated head girl must take it or refuse the post.”

She had known that if she was given the opportunity to be head girl it would come to this. Her mum had made her choice. Elizabeth must have made the same choice. Now she must make hers. The problem was she was scared, very scared indeed.

The headmaster must have sensed that fear for he asked: “Have you ever had any corporal punishment, Sarah?”

“Yes sir, in the first, second and third years. I have had the slipper a total of eight times but five of those were from Miss Duffy.”

The headmaster gave an involuntary grimace but made no comment; Miss Duffy was the head of PE and was known to slipper girls over their PE knickers for the most trivial of offences. He had tried very hard to get her to stop doing it but she just carried on. The problem was the slipper apart she was an excellent PE teacher.

“Well Sarah the slipper is all very well for sharpening up a girl’s attention but the cane is altogether different. It is important you understand what your choice is. I have three canes; the junior which is used on the younger girls; the senior which is used on the older girls; and the punishment cane used for the very worst cases. That cane is rarely used, in fact I have used it only twice this year, on Amanda and Kirsten, and not at all last year.”

Sarah knew that Amanda and Kirsten had been severely punished; their white faces with red blotches, tear stains and wet red eyes alone had told the story. The very stiff way they had walked and the bruises still to be seen a week later in the showers added to the tale. Even now she was rather unsure of the details but that it had involved boys and alcohol she had known. Now that was what she had to go through if she wished to be head girl, only she had no guilty conscience to ease the punishment. Amanda and Kirsten had both admitted later that they had deserved what they got and both had been model pupils ever since.

Sarah, although scared, was proud of the school’s traditions and had no wish to be only the third girl in ninety years to refuse the post. She also didn’t want to go home and tell her mum that she wasn’t brave enough to take what her mum had taken when it was offered to her. Her mum would understand and never mention it again but Sarah would feel ashamed forever.

“I understand, sir, and will take the caning, but I have to tell you I am really, really scared.”

“Of course you are, you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. Let me tell you every head girl I have appointed since coming here, and that is now ten, has also been very scared. Nothing to be ashamed of at all. Now would you like Elizabeth here to support you?”

Sarah held Elizabeth in very high esteem for the head girl was tall, intelligent and an exceptionally kind girl; it was hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about Elizabeth. Sarah suspected that while being caned she was going to wail and carry on a fair bit and the thought of Elizabeth seeing that was just too much. She wanted Elizabeth to think well of her.

“No thank you sir, if you don’t mind I’d like to take this in private.”

“As you wish. Now I must warn you that you must take all nine strokes, the tradition is that the head girl designate must take them all and I always get asked about it by the governors and I won’t lie to them.”

“I understand sir. Now what must I do?”

“Well first of all remove your blazer and hang it up on my coat stand. Then, and I know you will find this embarrassing as does every girl caned by me, you need to remove your skirt and underskirt which you can leave on one of the visitor’s chairs just there.”

Sarah blushed as she realised that the visitors’ chairs were against a wall where they were left until needed and that to put her skirt and slip there would mean walking back in just her knickers. Then it dawned on her that this was exactly what every girl punished had to do. That was one ordeal she could spare them by taking their clothes and putting them on the chair herself.

“Then come and stand behind this chair I’ve placed by my desk. At that point you must pull your knickers up tightly and bend over the back of the chair. Please hold very tightly to the seat and do try not to leap up, it only prolongs the ordeal for you. I don’t add extras to girls who leap up, they are punishing themselves by making the whole experience longer.”

Sarah began removing her blazer, her whole body beginning to quiver, and with trembling hands she hung it on the coat stand alongside the head’s academic gown which he rarely wore. She walked over to the visitors’ chairs and, turning her face towards the wall and away from the headmaster, swallowed hard at what she had to do next. Her fingers were trembling so much she fumbled the fastenings on her skirt a few times before getting them undone and allowing the skirt to slip down her legs. Normally she stepped out of it in one fluid motion but today a foot caught in the waistband and she nearly tripped over. The slip she just let drop and stepped over it before picking it up. Now there was nothing left to do but turn and walk towards Mr Morgan-Holdsworth.

Sarah of course could not see her own face; had she been able to do so she would have seen what the headmaster saw and noted her eyes were welling up with tears and her chin was quivering. Sarah could not know that the headmaster had made three separate attempts to end this custom but had been overruled by the governing body, dominated as it was by old girls several of whom had been a head girl.

Reaching the back of the chair and feeling very embarrassed she now had to pull her knickers up tightly. As with everything she did she made sure she had done it properly; having pulled them up so hard it was uncomfortable she then used her fingers to ensure that the knickers were totally clear of her bottom cheeks. Realising her blouse was partially hanging down over her bottom she took the ends and tied them together at her tummy to keep them out of the way. Finally feeling extremely sick she bent over the back of the chair and seized the seat on either side with an iron grip.

Sarah couldn’t help watching as the headmaster came around from behind his desk to take up his position behind her. The cane was horribly frightening; it was very long and she realised that would enable the part that hit her to be travelling at maximum speed. It was also rather thicker than the other canes. The headmaster disappeared behind her and she felt the fear in every part of her body but it reached screaming point when the cane rested across her bottom. It was so cold and so hard and she felt her bottom to be so soft and so sensitive, how could it take a blow from that?

The blow took her by surprise. It was hard and forceful, hitting her bare cheeks right in the centre and seeming as if it wouldn’t stop until it reached deep down into her bottom. The pain was huge, astonishing and overwhelming; Sarah shot to her feet her hands coming round to the aide of her bottom, a yell of shock and pain forced out of her.

“Please bend over again Sarah.” The headmaster was mild and patient.

Sarah thought for one wild moment that she didn’t have to do this; she could just walk out and not take it. Then the realisation of what that meant reached her and she slowly bent over, the single stripe across her bottom throbbing horribly as she did so.

She gripped the chair hard, ashamed of her reaction at the very first stroke and then the next stroke crashed down onto the softness of her bottom cheeks. Another agonised yell shattered the room but somehow she remained in place though her body twisted this way and that in an effort to bring relief to the hot burning pain the stroke had left behind.

“It hurts,” she told the chair seat.

“Yes Sarah it does,” replied the headmaster. “And I am afraid it will be worse before it is over. Normally the girls I cane like this deserve their punishment as they often tell me later, you do not but it hurts no less because of that.”

Sarah strained her ears for clues as to when the next stroke was coming. She was determined to take it better than she had so far. There was a vague awareness of a whooshing sound and then the cane struck; her head reared up but she strangled her outraged scream, making a most peculiar sound instead. She poured the pain down into her hands and gripped the seat hard. Now her bottom felt huge and more sensitive than she could ever remember. The three burning lines across her bottom merely the forerunners of the six yet to come. Tears leaked from her eyes and ran down her cheeks.

She failed to hear the sound of the cane as the fourth cracked down hard once again on her near bare bottom. “Ohhhhh,” she groaned loudly but kept position once again.

The fifth she heard as it swished down towards her and she braced, screwing her eyes shut and clenching her jaw. The blow and the pain that followed took her breath away and she groaned deeply but again held her position. How could she take four more like this? It just wasn’t possible.

The sixth caught her right down low, even partly landing at the top of the thigh. It was a wicked stroke with a great deal of force behind it and was agonising. Sarah screeched loudly and stood upright rearing right back her hands flying to her thrashed bottom while stamping hard with one foot. The headmaster said nothing but handed her a beautifully laundered linen handkerchief. She glared at him for a second then took it and blew her nose and wiped her eyes, her striped bottom throbbing and burning the whole time she did it.

Tucking the handkerchief unthinkingly into the front waist band of her knickers she bent over slowly once again and took hold of the chair. She was thankful for the chair and knew that without its support she couldn’t have taken the six she had never mind bend over for more.

She didn’t hear the sound of the cane through the air, but this time, for some reason, she heard it as it hit her hard across the bottom. It was a nasty sound; a meaty crack which seemed to bounce off the walls and frighten her. The sound though was nothing compared to the pain of the stroke for it landed more or less along the path of an earlier stroke and the exquisite agony of it made the earlier ones pale in significance. Again she screeched but managed to hold her position but wriggled her bottom wildly in a vain attempt to ease what she felt.

The headmaster waited for her to stop moving without any comment. Finally she realised she was just delaying the end and held still. “I’m sorry sir, I just can’t be brave. I’m sorry.”

“Quite normal for this sort of punishment, Sarah. Nothing to be ashamed about. Just two more.”

Sarah waited tensely and then the cane struck again. It was brutal, landing as it did on the narrow part of the bottom receiving the punishment. Again she screeched and writhed around but conscious now that there was only one to come made a huge effort to keep still for number nine.

Apart from the sixth, which had been low, the other seven strokes had landed in a tight band of no more than nine centimetres. That was now one bruised swollen throbbing band of pain and it was right into the centre of that band that the ninth stroke crashed down with power. It may have been the last but even if it had not Sarah would still have reared up with an agonised screech and  moved away from the chair writhing and holding her bottom in a vain effort to ease what she was feeling. She could not see the room for her tears and was unaware of much except how painful it was. She fetched up against one wall and leaning her head against it rocked gently for a while until the sharpness of the last stroke eased and everything became more manageable.

Using the handkerchief once more she eventually became aware of where she was and that the cane had been put away and the headmaster was looking deeply unhappy.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered out. “I am making such a fool of myself.”

“You would have been better with Elizabeth to help you. She could have told you she behaved pretty much the same way and she also ended up against that wall. I’m not clear why that helps but it must do. The problem is Sarah you have never been caned before and that is a brutal caning but it is now over, congratulations.”

Sarah found she was shaking hands with the man who a few minutes earlier had been thrashing her. “I’ll launder the handker…”

“No need, keep it as a souvenir. We’ll announce your new position tomorrow in assembly and present you with your badge at the final assembly with the parents and governors present. Now get your clothes back on and away home with you.”

Easing the knickers back over her swollen cheeks was not pleasant but she was so pleased to get her slip and skirt back on even if the walk home pulled the stripes on her bottom dreadfully. She longed to both tell her mum and have her comfort. Mum knew just how it felt for she’d been through it.

Her mother was watching from a front bedroom window; she took in the stiff slow gait and the blotchy face with its red eyes and knew that Sarah had both received the summons and taken the caning. She rushed downstairs to comfort and congratulate, wondering, not for the first time, if the caning was really needed.

The End

© Susan Thomas 2014

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