The Witness

Tara is asked to help Matron resolve a delicate situation.

By Tara Patterson

It was nearly the end of the 2015 exam season. Six weeks of Sixth form and GCSE Examinations had been intense and stressful not only for the pupils of Queen Anne’s Boarding School,  Ambleside, but for all the staff too, especially 35 year old Tara Patterson who had been the main Examination Invigilator.

Tara awoke late on this June Tuesday morning. There were no time-tabled exams today and only two more to oversee before she must leave Queen Anne’s again and return to her normal life on the family farm in Lincolnshire. Tara had decided to make the most of this extra midweek day off and do some walking. Although she had been a pupil at the School for five years she had seen little of the tourist side of the Lake District. Trips outside the gates for pupils were strictly controlled.

As she dressed, pulling on a tee shirt and a pair of cropped walking trousers, Tara couldn’t resist a quick glance at her rear in the mirror. Eight faint wheals still showed on her pert bottom, a reminder of her meeting with the Headmaster two weeks ago.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door,

“May I speak with you, Miss Patterson?” Came Matron Taylor’s voice.

Tara welcomed Matron into her room; number 234 had soon become to feel like home again. Matron was dressed as usual in her dark blue uniform. Tara noticed, however, she looked upset and seemed to be walking with a limp.

The old Matron sat down on an empty bunk and began to explain her visit.

“I’m sorry I have disturbed your day off so soon, Miss Patterson. I was hoping to speak with you after breakfast. It’s most unlike you to sleep in or miss a meal. You haven’t been out all night drinking again have you?” This was a reference to the events that resulted in Tara’s meeting with the Headmaster.

“No, Ma’am, I have learnt that lesson. I thought I’d treat myself to a lie-in and have a tourist day today; the last weeks have been rather intense.”

“I know, Miss Patterson,” sighed Matron. “And getting more so as the term draws on. An excellent idea to have a day out enjoying the area, but I am afraid that I have to ask you to change your plans today. Mr Lane wishes to speak with you on a most urgent and delicate matter, at your earliest convenience.

*          *          *

Half an hour later, Tara was sitting nervously in one of the familiar chairs outside the Headmaster’s office. She had changed into her black suit. She fidgeted in the seat and kept rubbing the toes of her black court shoes up and down  the back of her sheer stocking-clad legs. The little red traffic light shining brightly on the door did little to ease her fear. Why was she here? She was sure she was in trouble again, but for what?

“Just like being 15 again,” she thought, staring up again at the light. Then suddenly it changed to green, illuminating the word ‘Enter’.

As Tara entered the office Mr Lane greeted her warmly and gestured her to sit in one of the brown leather armchairs that were in the corner of his office by the large bay window. As he sat down, Mr lane surveyed the view of the sports field and then began to speak.

“I apologise for calling you to this meeting on your day off. Matron Taylor tells me that you had plans for hiking today; you are becoming quite the sportswoman since your return to us. My wife also is impressed, a fine game you gave her last night. You seem to be the girl to beat at the moment. Anyhow, I digress. This is not the reason I have called you here but more the unfortunate incident that happened on your dormitory landing last night.”

Tara looked at the Headmaster, puzzled by what he had said.

“Sorry Sir, I’m not quite sure what incident you are talking about? I was exhausted last night. As you have just pointed out, I played tennis with Mrs Lane till 8pm. I then had a bath and turned in. I was in bed by curfew and soon fell asleep. I didn’t even hear Matron call lights out.”

“So you are unaware of what some are politely calling the ‘cat fight’? I don’t know what to call it but I have the unfortunate duty of dealing with the aftermath,” said the Headmaster.

“Two girls on your landing, Lower Sixth girl Sarah Lonsdale and Upper sixth prefect Susan Norton, came to blows over a young man in the fifth form. It seems he has been playing them both along for his affections. The ensuing battle which I am amazed you slept through had to be broken up by Matron and three prefects. It resulted in a nasty facial scratch on one girl and, most unfortunately, with Matron Taylor being kicked on the shin. It appears the kick was accidental though, not intended for Matron.”

Tara looked at the headmaster dumbfounded. What has any of this got to do with me, she thought? Mr Lane looked again out of the window as if he was seeking inspiration before he continued.

“After interviewing all concerned late into the night I have reached the following conclusion; Lonsdale appears to be the main aggressor. She launched the first blow at Norton, totally unprovoked by the sound of things. Lonsdale has therefore been removed from the premises. She has been suspended for the remaining three weeks of term. I will be having a meeting with her parents later this week to determine whether or not she will return for the next academic year.

“Norton poses us a more difficult problem though,” continued the Headmaster. “Primarily she is the victim of this situation. The scratch on her face is very nasty. However she openly admits she fought back and it was she who accidentally kicked Matron Taylor on the shin. Such a pity for her to end her schooldays like this. She has only one examination remaining. Despite her subsequent apologies to Matron and her remorse, I cannot allow the matter to go unpunished. When all is said and done she did strike a member of my staff; a very serious matter indeed. I have therefore decided that Norton will return here at 3pm for a caning. This is where you come in, Miss Patterson.

“As you know the school punishment protocols state that an independent female witness must be present whenever I punish a female pupil. Normally this would be Matron, but she feels that her judgment and impartiality has been compromised by her involvement in this matter. Matron Taylor has thoughtfully suggested that you be the witness to Norton’s Punishment.”

“But why me, Sir?” Asked Tara. “I’m only the temporary Invigilator. Technically administration staff, not even a Teacher. Isn’t there another member of staff who can do it?”

“Indeed, Miss Patterson,” said the Headmaster. “You are forgetting that among all the staff, even including some of the senior staff, you are one of the most experienced in all aspects of the school disciplinary procedure and have much first-hand knowledge of the correct application of the cane.”

“Experienced eh?” Smiled Tara. “I’ll remember that the next time I am bending over a desk, skirt up.”

“And still very impertinent despite all your experience,” said Mr Lane.

He continued: “As this will be Norton’s first caning, she may appreciate some support and guidance from you. I have no doubt you will do the task well with fairness and compassion.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll try, sir,” replied Tara. “It will be strange to be the witness for a change.”

The Head stood up.

“Until 3pm, then, Miss Patterson. I have our Fifth form lover boy to deal with next.”

*          *          *

 Just before 3pm, Tara made her way along the dark corridor to Mr Lane’s office. Susan Norton had already arrived and sat nervously in one of the hard chairs. Her uniform looked immaculate. She had tied her blonde hair in bunches, her summer dress was freshly pressed and her socks showed up bright white against her polished black shoes. A painful looking scratch showed on her left cheek.

“Hello, Norton,” Tara began, trying to be sympatric but not knowing really what to say. “That scratch looks sore. Look, I know how you are feeling right now. I have been in your position often enough. It’s usually me sitting where you are; the waiting doesn’t help, does it?”

Norton sobbed. “No, Ma’am. Gosh, this is awful. I’m so sorry. What a mess! I have apologised to Matron and made it up with Clare before she left. Yes, it’s horrible, all this waiting. I couldn’t eat a bite at lunchtime. I got a real rocket from Miss Booth for wasting food. I just want it to be over. I was so silly to fight back and as for kicking Matron that was an accident. She just got in the way at the wrong time. Is she ok?”

Tara tried to be professional. She wanted to hug the hapless girl and she felt her anguish intently.

“Look, it’s nearly 3pm. By half past it will be all over. Just go in there and hold your head high. I’m not going to say anything like it won’t hurt, or it will be ok, because it will hurt. It will hurt like hell. It’s supposed to. Just try and be dignified about it all. Don’t give Mr Lane any excuse to give you penalty strokes. Just grip the desk and count.

Just then the little red light changed to green. Norton stood up, took a deep breath and crossed herself before she opened the large heavy door. Tara followed her in. They both stood before Mr Lane’s desk. The senior cane lay menacingly on the cleared surface.

Mr Lane surveyed the scene before he spoke thoughtfully and carefully. As he spoke, his voice became louder and his face reddened.

“Norton, I note your heartfelt apology to Matron Taylor and your remorse for this unfortunate and most violent of events. What a way to conclude your tenure with us? I also note your injury and the truthful admission that it was you who kicked out, hitting Matron’s leg. A nasty wound indeed. However, despite the fact you are leaving us in three days’ time, I cannot allow this violence to go unpunished. If anything, it will serve as a deterrent to others that we do not, under any circumstances, condone any physical violence of any kind in this establishment.  If this disgraceful act had happened outside of our walls then I have no doubt that you and Lonsdale would  be facing criminal proceedings.”

Norton sobbed. “Sorry, sir; I’m so…”

“Silence, Girl!” Shouted the Headmaster. I think the time for talking is over now. Remove your hat and blazer and bend over my desk. I am going to teach you a lesson you won’t be forgetting for a very long time. I am sure six strokes of the senior cane will leave you with a lasting memory. Miss Patterson, please prepare Norton for her caning.”

Susan Norton slowly removed her navy blazer and hat. She bent over the large desk and gripped the further edge tightly. As she laid down onto the hard surface, Tara lifted Norton’s cotton dress and slip above her waist. Tara could feel Norton shaking in fear. Her regulation white cotton knickers, stretched tightly over her chubby bottom, looked so vulnerable. Tara thought: ‘Gosh, do I look like that when I’m in that position?

Thoughtfully Tara moved around the desk and stood in front of Susan’s head and arms. She placed her own hands over Susan’s as the girl gripped the desk edge even tighter and closed her eyes.

“Just like Mrs Londsborough did for me on my first,” Thought Tara.

Mr Lane took up his position and swung the cane high.

Swish CRACK.

“ARRRRRR!” Susan screamed in shock. Tara sensed her about to rise up so she gripped Norton’s wrists tightly to stop her. “Keep still, Susan!” She whispered.

As she sunk down, Susan whimpered: “One, thank you sir.”

Swish CRACK.

“ARRRH!!! Two. Thank you, sir,” muttered Susan.

Strokes three and four produced little more than a grunt or a whimper. Big tears began to flow from Norton’s closed eyes.

Swish CRACK!

Stroke five landed low and Susan screamed again. Tara felt her wanting to rise up but she held on tightly to Susan’s Wrists. “Come on, Norton, one more to go.”

Swish CRACK!

As was usual at Queen Anne’s, Mr Lane delivered the last stroke hard diagonally across Susan’s Bottom.

“ARRRR! Six. THANK YOU, SIR!” Susan shouted through the pain.

*          *          *

Just before lights out, Matron Taylor looked in on Tara.

“Norton is fine, Miss Patterson. Still feeling sorry for herself and with a very sore bottom, but nothing a bit of cold cream and a night’s rest won’t resolve. You gave her much needed support, I believe. How was it for you, your first time as witness?”

Tara looked down at Matron from her bunk. “Terrible, Ma’am, if you must know. I think I felt every stroke. I’ve been up here having a cry too.”

“You do, Miss Patterson. In a way, I think of you all as my daughters,” replied Matron. “You weren’t the only one who used to cry after one of your canings. I suppose today was a demonstration, if one were needed, that your rebellion caused me much distress over the years, but still I think it has been well worth it, don’t you? You are now a well-rounded responsible woman and a credit to this school. I hope that I will have the opportunity to work with you again once this exam season is over.”

The End

© Tara Patterson 2015