Story from Blushes 5Approaching the school from the village, the visitor’s first sight of the main building is across a wide expanse of gently-sloped grass, vibrantly green at this time of year, setting off the red brick building against a distant background of dark coniferous trees. This older part of the school is in the shape of a capital ‘I’, the long downstroke being aligned east/west so that the windows facing the road have a southern aspect, while the cross strokes at either end of the central body face east and west respectively. A long drive, scrunchy with raked gravel, leads to the main entrance, a tastefully pillared portico at the top of a flight of low steps, midway along the southern face of the building.
Once through the double doors at the head of the steps, the marble tiled entrance hall opens out onto corridors which lead down the middle of the building, one to the left and another to the right, while straight ahead a broad staircase leads up to a gallery from which two other corridors give access to the upper floor in the same way as the lower corridors. A right turn takes visitors past classrooms on either hand to a smaller hallway, where stairs again lead to the upper floor. Directly in front is the staffroom, office and a storeroom. A left turn from the entrance hall leads to that end of the building set aside, on the ground floor, for the use of the school’s headmaster, one Mr Quentin.
Walking down this left hand corridor the visitor finds classrooms on either side of him, their interior walls mostly multi-paned glass from chest height upwards, allowing light into the central corridor, albeit of a somewhat gloomy kind. In front of him, across a hallway similar to the one at the east end of the school, the visitor is confronted by a door, upon which his gaze naturally falls as he approaches. Gaining the hallway, he then sees on either side of this central door two other doors at some little distance from it. To the right, a neatly lettered nameplate picks out the ‘Headmaster’s Study’, the door to the left is proclaimed to be the ‘Headmaster’s Sitting Room’. A short-sighted visitor supposing the central door to be the one he wanted would find it securely locked.
At this time of the day, early evening, the sun strikes diagonally across the study onto the north wall, which is lined with glass- fronted bookcases with a central niche in which a large, white marble fireplace is the centrepiece of the room. Above the fireplace a case containing those trophies of which the headmaster is most proud catches the sunlight and sets the cups and shields asparkle. A solid oak desk and several easy chairs are the major part of the study’s furniture, with several less substantial pieces distributed here and there.
In the sitting room too the sun comes through the tall windows, where it lights upon a large painting which takes pride of place amongst several others on the same wall. The central picture, with a theme Napoleonic and military, has suffered a little from its careless positioning where the rays of the evening sun can reach it, but the headmaster has fretted for so long over where else in the room it might be displayed to advantage that the caretaker no longer bothers to mention the matter of it’s being rehung. A comfortable settee with accompanying armchairs is grouped around the fireplace in the south wall, while a large polished table with a dozen chairs occupies the windowed wall.
Both the sitting room and the study have doors which would seem to connect the rooms to each other, were it not for the room between them into which the central door in the hall would open were it not permanently locked.
The room between the study and the sitting room, unlike those on either side of it, is a narrow, claustrophobic room, twice as long as it is wide and lit naturally only by one small window at the end opposite the locked door. Its floor, mostly bare, polished boards, is lent a token feeling of warmth by a fringed rug set mid-way between the doors which connect with the outside rooms. The rug is threadbare here and there and many of its tassels are missing.
Against the wall opposite the window, where one would expect to see the door to the hallway, there are shelves from floor to ceiling. Crammed onto these wide shelves, two and three deep and filling every possible space, there are books of various kinds. Mostly they are battered textbooks, years out of date, perhaps as many as eight or nine hundred of them, higgledy-piggledy here and there, wedged tightly one against the other as though their only purpose were to hide the wall and the door entirely from view. Such is the sound-deadening quality of this wall of books that even the clamour of the school bell as it rings outside in the hallway to announce the start of ‘prep’ is all but inaudible in this no-man’s-land betwixt study and sitting room.
The two long walls of this secluded hidey-hole are for the most part bare of furniture, with the exception of a shallow wooden cupboard fixed to one of the walls which presently has its doors ajar. Within, ranged on hooks along the back of the cupboard, the malevolent pale yellow gleam of use-polished canes grins disconcertingly at the opposite wall. The dulled shine of leather is in evidence too, with the out-of-place glitter of a long, slightly bowed plastic ruler incongruous amongst the natural materials of implements traditionally associated with the chastisement of schoolgirl bottoms. Group photographs of girls in classes as they were posed for the school photographer hang in narrow black frames along the wall opposite the cupboard; none of these frames has glass to protect the pictures, and here and there red ink circles the smiling faces of the prettiest girls, while virtually every one of the girls in each of the groups has a series of crosses floating in the air above her, with arrows dipping down towards a straw-boatered head where the subject of these annotations might be in doubt. This gallery of innocents — innocence to be presumed anyway, red circles notwithstanding — has the look of a catalogue of achievement rather than the appearance of a series of sentimental souvenirs.
At the window end of the room, close against the wall, is a sturdy-looking upright chair from which wooden arms would appear to have been amputated with a saw; the reason for this act of apparent vandalism presumably has to do with the removal of obstructions likely to inconvenience the occupant of the chair should he have occasion to put a misbehaved girl across his lap in order to spank her bottom. Next to the chair, and centrally placed in front of the window, is the room’s one sizeable piece of furniture, a heavily constructed bench of lightly stained timber, topped with a ‘work surface’ of worn leather such as might have been salvaged from an old vaulting horse. The bench, which is some three feet from the wall, stands at a peculiarly tilted-over angle, looking as though it might be about to topple over towards the window. Brass brackets, screwed firmly to the floor, explain its gravity-defying position of unbalance; its top, while level in a lateral sense, is inclined forward from the horizontal towards the wall in front of which it stands, an angle which has been achieved, apparently, by cutting its window-most legs some six inches shorter than the other pair, suitable flats having been sawn on the bottom of all four legs so that they sit squarely on the floor. The higher edge of the leather-covered top would be on a level with the bottom button of a tallish man’s waistcoat — that is, of a man of Mr Quentin’s height.
Against the wall on the side of the bench opposite from the chair there is a box-like construction some six or seven inches in height and perhaps eighteen inches wide and two feet long; put flat on the floor it would provide a platform or dais strong enough to take the weight of a biggish man. One would have to hazard a guess as to its purpose, but two substantial brass pins protruding from the underside of the box might be intended to locate in two holes which have been drilled in the floorboards between the legs of the bench, possibly to keep it in position as a stable foundation on which a fairly weighty man might want to stand.
Consideration of the finer construction details of this box might lead one to re-examine the bench itself with a view to divining it’s precise purpose more exactly, and one would be helped by the fact that one of the sixth form girls, one Annabel Appleby, has been silly enough to have earned herself a visit to the headmaster’s secluded and intimate little room. With Annabel’s pleasantly proportioned young figure bent tightly across it, the subtlety of the bench’s forward-tilted design becomes tantalisingly apparent, especially since she has been made to hang up her skirt on a hook screwed to the windowsill and has had her knickers taken down to the height to which girls’ knickers usually are taken down when the headmaster has them across the punishment bench; that is, to a point some four inches below the cheeks of her bottom, and with the slack of the pants as they fell loose around her thighs pulled forward to a point on the underside of the downward- sloping bench top where a large hook has been screwed into the wood so that girls’ knickers can be looped snugly over it in such a way that their legs are pulled close in under the bench in a semi bent-kneed position, thus minimising any tendency to wriggle unduly and conferring other advantages besides. For due to the down-slope of the bench under her tummy, Annabel’s blonde head is some eighteen inches lower than her bottom, which is to say that she has no option but to keep her bum lifted high up in the air over the front edge of the bench with the tender plumpness of her buttocks’ under-curves unavoidably presented to whatever instrument of chastisement is to be applied to that most sensitive of regions. Combined with the tucked-under position of her knees occasioned by the hooking of her knickers to the underside of the bench, Annabel no longer has any secrets worth blushing about, the moist declivity between the tops of her thighs being thus neatly and embarrassingly displayed, and the girl herself unavoidably aware of that most humiliating of circumstances.
If Annabel lifts up her head and grips the rearmost edge of the bench, with her arms stretched out on either side like a nose-diving delta-winged aeroplane, she can look back and just see the other end of the room past her bottom.
But Annabel doesn’t have to strain round to look over her shoulder if she wants to see behind; she can simply stay in her head down position and look in the mirror which leans at a flattish angle. What she sees in the mirror is her own legs, her knees together and her knickers at mid-thigh stretched to loop over the hook under the bench top. Beyond her legs she can see ceiling, and an enamelled lampshade dangling from it. The ceiling light is not quite above her uptilted bottom, but about four feet further back along the length of the room. When the light is switched on its reflection in the mirror will dazzle her, as it did last time.
Last time, she found that when the headmaster stood behind her she could see his face in the mirror, sort of tilted backwards so that she saw mostly double chin and nostrils, and sometimes his eyes too, when he happened to glance down. It has not occurred to Annabel that if the ceiling light dazzles her, then its reflected illumination must be lighting up the whole of her face, and neither has it dawned upon her that if she can see his face, then he can see hers — every detail, every nuance of expression as the cane whips across her bottom. Least of all has Annabel realised that precisely such intimate observation of her reactions to each stroke of the cane is the carefully worked-out purpose of the conveniently angled mirror against the wall. When Annabel’s helpless bottom jerks at the first cut of the cane, when she bites her lip against the smart and when the tears start from her eyes and fall like warm rain onto the mirror and trickle down it’s glass, the fall of every one of those pain pearls will be marked by one who will be enjoying his victim’s humiliation to the full.
What happens to Annabel now? What is the mystery of the brass-pegged box, and what do the noughts and crosses mean? How does Mr Quentin get away with it, and what else is he getting away with? If someone doesn’t write in with the answers, we’ll never know!