Three school secretaries in the 1960s get a nasty shock.
By Sally Cavendish
One of the reasons girls at the school were so reluctant to get sent to the headmistress, apart from the inevitable caning that awaited them, was that they first had to pass through the outer office, past the watching eyes of the three school secretaries.
Caroline Cook, Prudence Howard-Smith and Sally Wainwright were typical of the kind of respectable middle-class girls who were employed as secretaries in English schools in the 1960s. In their mid to late twenties, and already married, they dressed conservatively and spoke the Queen’s English immaculately, as if they had had elocution lessons. There was also something prim and slightly disapproving about them. If a girl came into the outer office and said she had been sent to see the headmistress, they would treat her with lofty condescension, as if whatever the girl had done to get herself into trouble, she was a silly little fool who had only herself to blame.
But they were keenly, some would say too keenly, aware of what happened to girls who had been sent to see the headmistress. As soon as the girl had been admitted to the headmistress’s study, the click-clack of typewriters in the outer office would suddenly stop. Ears were pricked, listening for the tell-tale sound of a six-of-the-best caning. Only when the caning was over would the secretaries resume their work.
If asked why they listened in on the canings, they would have said that they were just curious. After all, the sound of a rattan cane landing on a young female backside would have awakened the dullest imagination. But their curiosity did not pass unnoticed. Girls who had been sent for a caning would hear the three typewriters fall silent and know that it was no coincidence. The headmistress, too, appreciated its significance. She did not take the secretaries to task for listening in on the canings she administered. In a way, she rather liked it; it lent an extra theatricality to the administration of a thrashing. The listening women became, in their way, witnesses to the punishment. But she certainly made a mental note of it.
Then came the fateful day which the three young women would never forget. The day when their sins, if being compulsively nosey was a sin, caught up with them.
It was Caroline’s 28th birthday and, as the headmistress was out for the afternoon visiting another school, Prudence and Sally had taken it on themselves to bring a birthday cake into work, along with a bottle of cheap white wine. They were just starting to drink the latter, out of plastic cups, when they got the shock of their lives.
“And WHAT do you think you are doing?”
The headmistress was standing in the doorway, quivering with rage. The secretaries boggled at her, then at each other. What was the old battle-axe doing back so soon? She was supposed to be at least thirty miles away!
“If my car hadn’t broken down,” (Ah, so that was the explanation, thought Prudence, crimson with embarrassment) “I should probably never have witnessed this scene of debauchery. Yes, debauchery. What on earth do you think you’re doing? Drinking? In my office? During school hours? Explain yourselves!”
“It was Caroline’s birthday, headmistress.”
“We thought, because we had finished our work for the day, that…”
“We were only going to have one small glass each.”
“Headmistress, we’re so sorry.”
Thick and fast the excuses came, but the headmistress was implacable.
“It’s no good, ladies. This is the worst incident of its kind in the school since the hockey team got caught in the pub last year. And you know what happened to THEM. I want to see all three of you in my study at six o’clock.”
By the time six o’clock came round, it was three very nervous secretaries who knocked on the headmistress’s door. They did indeed know what had happened to the hockey team. They had been listening in the outer office, as was their wont, when the culprits were arraigned before the headmistress, and had heard with their own ears what had befallen them; not the traditional six of the best, but ten of the best. The VERY best, by the sound of it. Every single member of the hockey team had been in tears as she left the headmistress’s study, frantically rubbing her backside. It was lucky that they were members of staff and not subject to the same disciplinary regime as girls in the school.
“I know what you are thinking,” said the headmistress, reading their minds perfectly. “And of course you are right. You are grown women, so I cannot treat you like the girls in my care. But you are also employees of this school. I consider your behaviour this afternoon so outrageous that I would have no hesitation in dismissing you with immediate effect. The alternative; I think you can work out the alternative as well as I can.”
There was a miserable silence, broken finally by Sally.
“Headmistress, are you saying that if you, er, deal with us as you, er, dealt with the girls in the hockey team, we will not face the sack?”
The headmistress nodded grimly. “That’s exactly what I am saying. Ten of the best apiece. It’s up to you, of course, but I need a decision please.”
The women exchanged nervous glances, then bowed to the inevitable.
“I’ll accept the caning,” said Caroline.
“So will I,” said Sally.
“So will I,” said Prudence.
“Good. Then let’s get it over with. Prudence, pass me the cane hanging on the back of the door. Sally, place that chair in the middle of the room. Caroline, take up your position in front of the chair. Lift up your skirt. Right up. Now bend over the chair, with your hands on the seat. This is going to hurt a great deal.”
The headmistress was in her element. Caroline’s underwear was quite modest by modern standards; a pair of the plain white cotton panties which, for women of her generation, were tantamount to a uniform. But stretched taut across her curvaceous bottom, they offered very little by way of protection. The headmistress lined up a point midway up the target area and, with no further warming, brought the cane lashing down.
To Prudence and Sally, watching in horror, it was a terrifying spectacle. Even muffled by a door, the sound of a thrashing was bad enough. To hear it, and see it, from just a few yards away as it progressed was little short of traumatic. And to think that, in just a few minutes, it would be them asked to bend over the chair and be at the receiving end of that evil-looking cane.
The final stroke, in accordance with long tradition, was the hardest of the lot. Poor Caroline let out a low moaning sound, and it was all she could do to stop herself rubbing her poor bottom. Her panties had ridden up during the caning, and a few angry red stripes were clearly visible.
“Right, Caroline, you may go. Who’s next? Sally? Come along, come along. I haven’t got all day. Bend right over, please. That’s it. Now stay still.”
The second caning was the equal of the first. If anything, noted Prudence, watching miserably, the headmistress deployed her cane with even more venom than before, as if getting into her stride. As it landed on its target, ridges started to appear on the panties, and the cotton seemed to ripple under the impact. Every stroke hit home, with remorseless efficiency. Poor Sally.
Poor Sally indeed. By the time her caning was over, she was sobbing like a child. It was all she could do to pull down her skirt over her throbbing bottom and limp out of the room. As the door closed behind her, there was a silence you could have cut with a knife.
“So, Prudence,” said the headmistress, finally. “You’re bringing up the rear, are you?” She looked sternly over her glasses at her victim. Prudence Howard-Smith, in her opinion, was one of these arrogant young women who should have been brought down a peg or two years ago. Probably pampered as a child, when she should have been disciplined for stepping out of line. It would be good to make up for lost time and subject her to a long overdue thrashing.
A thought suddenly struck her. “I have just realised that I forgot to ask who was responsible for bringing that bottle of wine into the office. I assume it wasn’t Caroline, as it was her birthday. So it must have been you or Sally. Are you going to tell me which of you it was, Prudence, or would you like me to call Sally back and cross-examine her?”
“There is no need, headmistress,” said Prudence weakly. “It was me.”
“I see.” The headmistress flexed the cane thoughtfully. “That, of course, makes you the ring-leader as far as I am concerned. And ring-leaders at my school are dealt with far more harshly than those they have led astray. I’m sorry, Prudence, but you leave me with no alternative. You will receive fifteen strokes of the cane.”
“On your BARE bottom.”
Prudence stared at her, open-mouthed. Words of protest formed on her lips, but the headmistress’s face was so implacable she was afraid to utter them. As if in a dream, she bent over the chair, raised her skirt and, an inch at a time, lowered her white panties to the top of her thighs. The stage was set. The milky-white bottom, trembling in anticipation. The yellowing rattan cane, singing through the air. And, presiding over the whole scene, the stern figure of the headmistress, wholly focussed on the job in hand.
* * *
In the outer office, still extremely sore from their own punishments, Caroline and Sally listened intently, as they had listened a hundred times before. As the first stroke landed, taking them aback with its sharp cracking sound, they exchanged knowing glances.
“On the bare?” Whispered Sally, a connoisseur of such things. Caroline nodded gravely. “But why? I just don’t understand. Do you think she said something?”
They listened intently, counting the strokes, then had a second riddle to contend with. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Poor Prudence! When was her ordeal going to end?
It was a relief when her ordeal did end and the three friends could be reunited and free to comfort each other. When they left work for the day, they were still feeling so sorry for themselves that they barely had time to ponder another riddle. However were they going to explain the tell-tale marks on their bottoms to their husbands?
© Sally Cavendish 2017