The stern reality of a girl’s punishment by her headmaster.
By Stuart Scott
Friday 14th December 1956
Becky looked out of the window at the scene in the playground below. Despite it being a bitterly cold December day the eighteen year old would have liked nothing more than to be down there with all the other girls’ enjoying the freedom of playtime. A figure dashing hurriedly across the playground caught Becky’s attention. She watched an unknown girl pursue a ball across the playground with one hand clasped tightly on top of her hat as she struggled to keep it in place against the gusting wind. As the girl finally caught up with the elusive ball and bent to scoop it up with both hands she almost lost the battle with the wind to keep her hat in place and only quick reactions ensured she retained a hold on both hat and ball. Witnessing such an incident would normally put a smile on Becky’s face, but not today.
With the girl now having retrieved the ball, Becky shifted her attention to the mass of identically uniformed girls who walked, chased or simply huddled in small groups chatting. She tried to pick out her friends from the various groups below. Yet despite her best efforts it was difficult to spot their familiar faces. In particular she wanted to find her best friend Susan. Right now Becky was in desperate need of reassurance and comfort, and she knew Susan would offer this without too many probing questions.
Although the window she gazed out of was on the second floor it wasn’t the distance that caused her problems in identifying her friends. Becky had very good eyesight and was usually the first to pick out the number of an approaching bus as she waited with her schoolmates at the bus stop in the mornings. But at this moment the world Becky looked out on was blurred making it impossible to pick out the familiar features of her friends.
Dipping a hand into the pocket of her blazer Becky removed a handkerchief and raised it to her eyes once more in an effort to clear her vision. But the white cloth proved ineffective at removing the film of moisture that clung to Becky’s eyes, it was just too wet from wiping away the earlier copious tears when, after her release from the headmaster’s study, Becky had fled to seek sanctuary in one of the small cubicles in the toilets. Blinking did nothing to sharpen her vision, so with no other choice she resorted to drawing the sleeve of her blazer across her eyes.
Pressing her face closer to the glass Becky peered once more down into the playground, this time concentrating on all the places she and her friends liked to spend the break from lessons. They were not amongst the small crowd of girls who huddled around the porch of one of the entrances, no doubt desperate to hear the bell and escape the cold winter day. Her eyes moved towards the gymnasium wall, a sheltered place from the worst of the north wind. Becky blinked and forced her eyes to squint as somebody seemed familiar.
Yes, it was Penny. Becky’s eyes seemed to clear in the excitement of finding at least one friend. And Mandy was there too, taking advantage of standing beside a chubby girl for a little more protection from the freezing wind. How typical of Mandy, she really hated being cold. Always complaining as to why they couldn’t be allowed to stay inside on days like today.
“Ohh!” Becky gasped in delight as she spied Susan in amongst the group. Although Susan was only a month older, Becky thought of her as more of a reliable big sister than a best friend. Becky raised her hand towards the glass ready to wave in an effort to get the attention of her friends, but then hesitated and stepped quickly back from the window no longer wanting to be seen. The desire she held to get as far away from the headmaster‘s study and into the comforting presence of her three friends had vanished. She felt too ashamed to face them in her present condition.
Becky knew she could not avoid her friends. Even if she didn’t go out into the playground right now, in a few minutes the bell would bring playtime to an end and soon they would all be together in the classroom. Becky began to cry again. Her friends, and for that matter all the class, would see there was something wrong. Her face with the reddened eyes and tell-tale tear streaks would be enough to provoke questions. Even her bottom felt different and although they wouldn’t see that, Becky was convinced it made her walk different. She could no longer comfortably take her usual long stride, which sometimes her friends had difficulty keeping up with, especially Jenny who was the shortest of them all.
The consequences of her visit to the headmaster couldn’t be kept secret, that was for sure. She would have to tell somebody and no doubt word would quickly spread amongst her classmates, and probably the school. Becky knew she wasn’t the only one to have gone through it, which was obvious from all those names written on the pages of the book to which Mr Tomlinson had added hers. She tried to think of the words she could choose to explain the traumatic experience she had gone through some fifteen minutes or so ago. None of her three friends had ever suffered the shame and pain that Becky had just endured. It seemed to go on forever but of course in reality it hadn’t taken Mr Tomlinson long at all. Becky now reckoned it couldn’t have been much more than a minute. But the pain was something Becky could never have imagined. Lacking the courage to expose herself in front of a mirror in the toilets she was yet to see the effects. She knew there would be marks that would last for a while, but for how long? One week or two, could they last longer than that? The one thing that Becky was most certain about was she would never forget this day on which Miss Corbett had taken her to the headmaster, Mr Tomlinson.
Although wanting to forget the last twenty minutes of her life, Becky began to go over the events as best she could recall them. Maybe it would help if she was faced with having no choice but to give an account of what happens when you go to the headmaster. However, she was still determined to volunteer little about her experience. It was just too shameful.
Mr Tomlinson’s secretary had used the intercom to announce Becky’s arrival with Miss Corbett. There was no delay. Miss Corbett ushered Becky through the door into Mr Tomlinson’s office itself where she was made to stand in front of his desk. She’d never been so close to him before. Usually he was just the distant figure standing on the school stage during morning assembly, but this time only the few feet that made up the width of the desk separated them. She felt nervous and was sure most girl’s would too standing only feet from the headmaster, even those there to be presented with a merit badge or school colours.
Despite normally being very confident, on this occasion Becky couldn’t bring herself to look directly at the headmaster. Instead she looked over his shoulder at the books in the bookcase behind him. With hindsight perhaps a more contrite posture would have been a better choice, for it was as if Mr Tomlinson was aware why she was stood before him. Maybe not exactly why, but he must have been use to teachers bringing girls before him for similar reasons.
At the beginning Becky was not unduly worried as she listened to Miss Corbett deliver her report on the incident during that morning’s Geography lesson, which had resulted in the walk to see Mr Tomlinson. It was strange listening to the teacher speaking about her to Mr Tomlinson, as if Becky herself wasn’t present in the room. Then Miss Corbett’s use of one word finally gave Becky cause for concern. Impertinence!
Becky was accused of being impertinent. She began to worry about the excessive view the teacher had taken about that morning’s events during Geography. She knew it would be considered a very serious offence if Mr Tomlinson agreed with Miss Corbett’s interpretation of Becky’s action in the lesson. Becky saw it in a far less serious light.
All she had done was press Miss Corbett for a better answer to a question she’d asked. In her own opinion she certainly hadn’t been disrespectful. ‘A little headstrong’ was a common remark made about her in various school reports. It was certainly true today. Susan had obviously realised things were getting a little out of hand. Becky now realised she should have taken more note of the warning expression on her friend’s face and forgotten about her pursuit of a more comprehensive answer. Finally it was Miss Corbett who brought the matter to a close, as far as the classroom was concerned.
“Be quiet and sit down. You can stay behind at the end of the lesson!”
As her classmates made their way outside Becky had remained at her seat expecting a strong lecture on her attitude, once the classroom door was closed. But there was no lecture from Miss Corbett, just an instruction.
“Come with me!”
That was how Becky ended up before Mr Tomlinson.
Becky remembered a silence in the headmaster’s study and realised Miss Corbett had finished her account. Now Becky prepared herself to be questioned by Mr Tomlinson and given the chance to give her side.
However, when Mr Tomlinson spoke it was not to her but to Miss Corbett. What he had to say was more shocking for Becky than the teacher.
“Miss Corbett, it always saddens me when a member of the teaching staff is subjected to such rudeness by a pupil, especially in front of a class. The only appropriate punishment is a caning. Four strokes should make a good example.”
Becky felt a sense of utter disbelief at what she had just heard. She stood frozen, unable to do anything. There had been no hesitation from the headmaster in passing sentence only seconds after Miss Corbett had finished speaking. She’d not even been given the opportunity to say anything in defence of herself. Many of her other teachers surely would have seen Becky’s questioning not as impertinence but just as a need to satisfy her curiosity. Mr West, her history teacher, was always saying they should not just accept what they are told but to question and dig deeper into issues, form their own opinions.
Looking towards Miss Corbett, Becky sought to determine if the teacher was equally surprised by Mr Tomlinson’s intention to cane her. There was no look of surprise on the teachers face. Miss Corbett’s expression was one of satisfaction.
A caning! As it sunk in Becky felt the uncomfortable swelling in her eyes.
“The first thing is for this girl to offer an apology, Miss Corbett.” Seeing Becky hadn’t moved Mr Tomlinson prompted her into action. “Apologise for your offence!”
Becky turned her head to Miss Corbett. “Sorry Miss.”
“What was that?” Mr Tomlinson’s outburst sent a shiver down Becky’s spine. “That is not the correct way to apologise! Go and stand before Miss Corbett and apologise for your impertinence in class.”
With her confidence shattered, Becky shuffled the few steps require to stand in front of Miss Corbett. There was no pretence about her head bowed contrite posture.
“Please Miss Corbett, I’m sorry…..” There was a hesitation. “….for being impertinent in class.” Unable to move until hearing that her apology was satisfactory this time, Becky sniffed desperate to hold back the tears. It proved an impossible task and her humiliation in front of Miss Corbett was complete as the tears ran silently down her cheeks.
“That was better, girl!” Becky’s second effort met with the headmaster’s approval.
“Miss Corbett, when do you next have her class for Geography?”
“Mmm….it will be next Tuesday afternoon Headmaster.”
“Girl, at the beginning of next Tuesday’s lesson you will make the same apology to Miss Corbett in front of the class. Should you fail to do so I will come to your class! Do you understand?” Mr Tomlinson added to Becky’s humiliation.
“Yes, Sir.” There was nothing else Becky could say, she fully understood the consequences of not repeating her apology next week.
“Good. Come back to my desk girl and we’ll get on with administering your punishment.”
Although hating been constantly referred to as ‘girl’, with Miss Corbett obviously enjoying her disgrace, Becky was only too willing to obey the instruction and quickly returned to where she had stood a moment ago.
Mr Tomlinson searched the bookcase and found the book he was looking for with the minimum delay. Sitting back down, he opened the chosen book. As he turned the pages Becky saw the neat ordered lines written on each page and realised that each line was a record of a girl who had suffered a similar fate in the past. Finally Mr Tomlinson reached a page where the writing only went halfway down the page. He picked up his pen.
“Beck..y…….err….Rebecca Murray, Sir.”
“Six A, Sir.”
Mr Tomlinson needed to ask no more questions to finish the entry.
Becky didn’t know what to do. She stood there unable to obey his instruction. Her obvious state of confusion betrayed it was her first time.
“Start by removing your hat and blazer.”
Lifting the hat off her head Becky decided the best place for it was on the chair beside her. Placing it on the seat she awaited criticism should it be the wrong place. No words came and she turned to the buttons on her blazer, which seemed more stubborn than usual to unfasten. Perhaps that was due the nervous twitching fingers that worked to undo the buttons. Slipping the blazer off her shoulders Becky placed it neatly on the back of the chair.
Becky just restrained herself from taking an involuntary step backwards as Mr Tomlinson caught her by surprise as he quickly got up from his chair and walked purposefully towards her. But he paid her no attention and went right past, disappearing from her view. Not hearing any instruction to go with him she remained perfectly still, not daring to move a muscle and just staring straight ahead across the desk at his empty chair. Then she began to suspect what he was doing. There was still one item missing which was essential for him to carry out the punishment he’d awarded her. Becky had to work really hard to control the urge to turn and look behind to see where Mr Tomlinson was going and what he was going for.
Becky shuddered as Mr Tomlinson unexpectedly reappeared at her side. She hadn’t heard his approach. Then she saw the cane in his hand. It was hard to imagine that such a slender rod would inflict terrible pain. She didn’t know it but first time or not, by default of her age it was the senior cane he would use. She snapped her eyes shut tight in reaction to the sight of that awful implement which was soon to cause her a great deal of pain. Although the cane disappeared in the momentary blackness it didn’t send it away. Reopening her eyes the cane was still there in his hand.
“Come over here!”
Becky followed Mr Tomlinson. They only went a few paces. But those steps were enough to put them into a clear space away from the desk and any other furniture. Becky realised this was the spot in the headmaster’s study where girls’ whose names were recorded in the book received the cane. With her name added now it was time for the final part of this ritual. She guessed what Mr Tomlinson’s next words would be.
Becky was correct.
Becky simply leant forward enough to rest her hands on her knees. It was a half-hearted attempt at bending over and not satisfactory at all.
“Get right down girl!” Mr Tomlinson would only be satisfied with the right pose.
“Uhh!” Becky gasped at the sharpness of the rebuke and quickly eased her upper body further down until she was able to wrap her fingers around her ankles. She stared down at the floor and hoped that this would be acceptable.
She watched with her upside down eyes as Mr Tomlinson approached her, well his legs anyway. He came close, very close. Just when Becky thought he was about to bump into her, he stopped right behind her. Then it started, a sensation of her clothing being pulled about. Then she saw movement as the back of her grey gymslip went up as the headmasters hands, unseen by Becky, gathered up the hem and turned the back of the gymslip’s skirt inside out as they brought the material up onto her back.
Becky’s cheeks warmed as her face flushed red at the shame of being exposed in such a way. It was worse than the experience of standing before Miss Corbett and uttering her apology. She tried her best to fight back the tears and for a brief moment won the struggle. Then…….
……..“Mmmhhh!” Becky let out a pathetic whimper as she realised just how vulnerable her navy blue school knickers were to the unseen hands. She prayed silently that he wouldn’t add to her shame and expose her further for the cane.
The cheeks of her bottom clenched as she felt a touch on her knickers, but it wasn’t his hands. Twice more her bottom was tapped and each time the rounded cheeks distorted in anticipation as now she knew what it was that had touched her bottom. She waited for the cane to tap against her bottom once more, but it never came. She realised that the next time the cane would come down on her bottom it wouldn’t be a gentle tap it delivered.
Becky waited. Mixed feelings filled her head. There was relief that she had been spared the ultimate humiliation of having her bottom bared in front of Miss Corbett. But the strongest feeling was that of dread now that the time had come. Unable to see the raised cane she tried to anticipate the stroke that would soon fall.
Only when he was ready did Mr Tomlinson bring the cane down. It took just a second for the speeding rod to meet with Becky’s waiting bottom. The force of the cane put a dent into the navy blue knickers as the soft flesh below yielded momentarily before springing back to its rounded shape.
“Aaarghhh!” Becky cried out as the cane lashed across her knickers and brought instantaneous pain like nothing she had ever felt before.
Once more the headmaster pulled the cane away from Becky’s writhing bottom. He held it high for the few seconds he knew it would take for Becky’s body to experience the full painful effect of the first stroke. Then he delivered the second blow whipping the cane down hard onto the defenceless target.
Unseen beneath the knickers, Becky’s bottom developed a second red weal immediately the cane struck.
“Yyaarggghh!” Becky’s whole body jerked. She hadn’t even begun to recover from the awful first stroke when the second rekindled the pain causing her once more to yell out in agony.
Mr Tomlinson’s experience told him that the pain from the second impact had reached its peak.
“Aaaaarrghhhh!” The fresh pain forced another screech from Becky’s mouth, as the third stroke whipped her bottom.
One more stroke to come and just like with the others Mr Tomlinson timed the cane’s arrival perfectly to strike Becky’s bottom right at the moment when the hurt inflicted by the third stroke was at its height.
“Nnaaarrghhh!” She’d had no time to recover and brace herself. Her whole body twisted this way and that as Becky struggled with the pain.
Slowly the intense pain finally began to dull as there were no more strokes to build it back up. At last there was time to cry properly to show how much she had been hurt. Becky sobbed loudly feeling no shame at the noise she made as the tears flowed down her face.
“Stand and tidy yourself!” Mr Tomlinson considered Becky had had sufficient time recover. If she wanted to continue crying then she could find somewhere else outside his study.
Becky continued to cry as she passed Miss Corbett, on the way to the chair to recover her blazer and hat, with no desire to look at the teacher who was responsible for the terrible pain that had just been inflicted on her.
The buttons on the blazer were just as difficult to fasten as they had been to undo. The hat didn’t sit too well on top of her well tussled hair.
“Dismissed!” Mr Tomlinson’s word finally brought Becky’s time in his office to an end.
Becky tried to leave the office with a much dignity as was possible after four strokes of the cane. But once out in the corridor she broke the school rules and ran to the toilets.
The time she had spent in the headmaster’s office was put to the back of her mind, where Becky was determined it would stay to be told to nobody. She took one last glance out of the window and caught site of a very familiar figure walking across the playground huddled against the cold. It was Susan. Becky made up her mind.
The doors in the porch crashed open and scattered the startled group of girls, who had sought some shelter from the cold there. A figure dashed passed them attracting derisory comments.
“S…S..Susan….nnn!” Becky cried out, breathless from her dash down two flights of stairs.
Her best friend lifted her head. “Becky. Where have you been?” Susan then paused as she took in her friend’s face. Was it the cold that made Becky look like that? “Are you all right?”
“No! Miss Corbett took me to Mr Tomlinson. Said I’d been impertinent. He caned me. Oh Susan it hurt me so much!”
Before Susan could react she found herself in a tight clinch as Becky hugged her desperately, seeking the comfort she desire so much from her best friend.