‘She will be in trouble soon, poor thing!’
Mildred and Annie were whispering, as they stared at the wayward stance and untidy appearance of their new classmate. They experienced a natural sympathy for any girl at the convent school who did not completely subscribe to the strict rules laid down; they themselves did not so subscribe. Why, the regulations were virtually Victorian, despite it being the 1920s! They continued to gaze at the rather delightful Ella Lukyn; they could not help hoping that she might unwittingly create a diversion in their dreary lessons.
The girls were standing in line for the thrice daily inspection of their personal appearance. The inspection was conducted by Sister Digna, a tight-faced nun approaching middle-age. She had been with the Order since girlhood, and stood no nonsense from her charges, even though they were of the age to be young ladies.
Sister Digna examined each girl from head to toe, her sharp piercing eyes missing nothing. In her hand, she carried a long rod with which she was wont to rap the knuckles of offenders who dared to permit their dress to fall below the high standards demanded by the convent. She looked critically along the row. All the girls were dressed alike in long black skirts, black woollen stockings with small boots, together with high-necked white blouses.
Was anyone spoiling this picture of uniform neatness?
‘Dorothy!’ Her voice cut through the air, her eyes trained on a tall girl. ‘You have a mark on your blouse!’
The girl automatically stretched out her hand; her knuckles were rapped sharply, causing her to wince with pain. Sister Digna requested the little book and pencil which each girl had to keep on her, and she inscribed a thick black mark. Dorothy’s friends peered across, aware of the consequences. Three black marks in the week meant a birching. It was the untidy Dorothy’s second for that week, and only two days had passed.
Sister Digna continued the inspection, dressed in her immaculate habit. Here and there, she employed the rod on the knuckles of a girl whose stockings were wrinkled, or whose skirt was not smoothed down in the manner befitting a truly modest young lady. Suddenly, she had stopped in front of Ella, the new girl. Hair pins stuck awry out of the girl’s low fair bun; her uniform was obviously newly purchased, but it looked as if it had already suffered a whole term’s use. The blouse was dirty and rumpled, and the skirt had creases, suggesting it had spent the night in a crumpled heap on the floor.
Sister Digna gazed at the sight with disgust. A grim expression crossed her face. She could see that the girl’s black stockings were obviously almost half-way down her legs. Momentarily the Sister was at a loss for words, but the titter from Ella’s classmates quickly brought her to a decision. Ella Lukyn might be a new girl, and hence deserving of a little leniency, but she must also be made aware of the discipline necessary for such girls as herself.
Sister Digna ordered the slim, rosy-cheeked seventeen-year-old into the centre of the room. Ella’s hands were slouched behind her. The girl had been furious at her parents’ decision to send her away to a finishing school; consequently, she determined to reap as little of the desired benefit from it as possible. She glared resentfully at Sister Digna. Only after a moment’s rebellious silence did she hold out her hands as instructed. The rod swung down on them forcefully four times.
Ella was immediately ashamed of the tears which she felt springing to her eyes, knowing that the other girls were watching her being punished. Two black marks were entered in her little book, and she then returned to her place, a flush of humiliation covering her countenance.
At the end of the first week, Ella received as severe a birching as any other girl would have received, who had chalked up so many black marks. And the birch itself left its own set of marks. This was an almost unheard-of event for a new girl, since Mother Superior possessed a slight weakness for any girl wrenched so recently from her family and friends. But then it was also unheard of for any new girl to behave quite so badly!
For the simple acquisition of black marks, Mother Superior did not in fact thrash the girls so severely and thoroughly as for individual and more positively evil misdemeanours. Even so, Ella found the experience an exceedingly painful one, for she was not accustomed to such treatment from her father.
When she had lined up with the other girls awaiting the punishment before the door of Mother Superior’s room, the moons of her posterior were quivering against her drawers.
Indeed, what a picture this line of eight nervous wrong-doers presented! All were dressed exactly alike in their uniform black and white; and each girl had that uniform at its neatest. An attempted look of penitence was upon Ella’s face, in the hope that it might soften the heart of Mother Superior. It was, alas, a heart which had been hardened long ago against such ruses.
Each girl entered the room in her turn. The sound of her cries from within produced a chastening effect upon the girls still waiting. The fear within Ella grew, and she shuddered at the sight of the girls as they re-emerged, observing with horror their dishevelled figures and the blotchy marks of tears upon their cheeks.
Being the new girl, Ella was last in the row. She saw her companions being shepherded away by a stony-faced nun to make sure that they remedied the defects in their appearance. For, after the punishments had been meted out, it was Prayer Time. It was required that each girl be as perfectly garbed and clean-faced at though the morning were fresh and new.
At last, Ella found herself stumbling into the study. She stared with terror at the birch being swished so menacingly through the air. The crackling twigs caused her to tense her posterior, and a sinking feeling spread within her.
‘I am sorry to have to see you here so soon like this,’ announced Mother Superior. The old nun’s eyes glinted at the girl; yet she truly meant what she had said. It hurt her that she should have to punish a new girl so quickly. ‘At least, for once your uniform is in order!’ she observed wryly; but then her voice became a bark. ‘Bend across that chair!’
Ella obeyed, feeling herself quaking, wishing the birching was all over. The nun slowly gathered the girl’s long black skirt up, hooking it about the waist, leaving exposed the pair of old-fashioned coarse drawers the school insisted its pupils must wear.
Ella flinched and blushed, for even Sister Digna did not usually submit her girls to the indignity of an inspection of their undergarments! As Ella felt her mentor’s hands upon the laces of her drawers, she held her breath. A moment later, she felt the garment dropping down her legs, shamelessly exhibiting her most intimate regions. It was then that she vowed that never again would she bring such divine retribution upon herself. No longer would she be wicked. Never again would there be a wrinkle in those hated black woollen stockings; never...
The first stroke of the birch fell across the white cheeks of the girl’s rump. Forgetting all else, Ella cried out in shock, feeling the twigs tearing at her naked flesh.
Mother Superior was indeed thorough in her chastisements, but she was not utterly lacking in mercy. Although whole-heartedly believing that every girl should receive her just desserts across her bottom, she only rarely prolonged the agony of the punishment for longer than was absolutely necessary.
The birch swept through the air swiftly, each stroke following immediately upon the preceding one. Mother Superior chastised each buttock alternately, administering three strokes to the right, and three to the left in perfect fairness. Several times, Ella’s hands also caught the impact from the twigs as she tried to shield her vulnerable regions. Her posterior felt as if it was being pierced by a thousand daggers.
‘Oww! Ouch! Please stop!’ She yelled out, and then burst into unrestrained tears. She did not, as both Mother Superior and Sister Digna informed her afterwards, conduct herself in a manner of which she could feel in any way proud.
For the next few days, Ella’s dress and her conduct was that of the perfect young lady. Indeed, Mildred and Annie, with whom she had already become friendly, were quite distinctly disappointed. However, as the pain in her rear subsided, Ella’s accustomed and irrepressible yearning for excitement — a yearning which had so concerned her parents — resurfaced. It was this which led to one of the greatest scandals concerning the sheltered and old-fashioned convent school of St Gabriel’s.
There were at the time several young men home from college, residing in the village. They had an eye for young ladies, and the nuns frequently warned the girls never to look in the direction of the men, for so great was the devil! The first time Ella spotted these gentlemen, who were not indeed uncomely specimens, her maidenly heart skipped a beat. Instantly she summoned Annie and Mildred to the dormitory window, and under her instigation, all three girls were waving their straw hats in the direction of the young men; hats in which they had just been so properly attired while walking in a neat crocodile line following Sister Clementine. Alas, that very woman was now standing right behind them, her eyes and body rigid with shock at the gross immodesty of her charges.
Her voice caused them to turn around, and their lips twitched at the black expression on her face. She instructed them immediately to follow her; she led them to the cells sometimes used by the nuns during retreat and penance. There the girls remained, each in solitary confinement, until a lay sister commanded them to follow her to Evening Prayer.
Sister Digna was carrying out her customary inspection of the girls’ uniforms before Mother Superior entered. One girl’s boots were not blacked, another girl had not tucked in her blouse properly, and her stockings were holed. Each merited the rod and a black mark; but the three culprits of the day were left standing separately at the back, as if they were unclean!
The girls knew not which way to turn in their fright. Ella felt her cheeks going bright red, for the other girls constantly glanced at them, intrigued to learn of their crimes. Annie and Mildred were trembling, causing Ella to be all the more frightened; and she could not prevent her hands from giving her rear a rub through the black skirt. How she loathed the suspense of waiting! Yet how she dreaded the punishment which was sure to come!
Mother Superior entered the hall. The girls gasped out in unison. She was bearing the vicious-looking birch. Their gasps were silenced immediately.
Mildred, Annie and Ella had to submit, knees shaking with trepidation, to the ordeal of prayers, before they were to learn of the exact nature of their fate. And never before had they prayed so fervently!
There followed a terrible pause. In a daze, the three girls heard that they were to receive ten strokes of the birch each in full view of the school. Such humiliation was unthinkable, unbearable. Ella looked at Mildred, then at Annie. They were biting their lips; Ella could see that they were as filled with anguish as she was. How would they bear ten strokes from that vile birch?
Ella’s hands were all the more insistently rubbing at her posterior. She was praying that perhaps they would be birched over their skirts. Annie whispered the same idea to her; but none of the girls believed it possible.
The voice from a Sister cracked through their hazy states, ordering them to step forward on to the stage at the front of the hall. The girls were paralysed; they could not move. Ella could not face the thought of having to walk up in front of all the other girls, and then being chastised, whilst all those eyes stared at her.
Mother Superior was becoming impatient. She indicated to a couple of the Sisters to do what was necessary. The Sisters grabbed hold of the girls, pushing and pulling them to the front. Ella felt her cheeks burn, and she could see the quiver on her two companions’ faces. Now, in front of the whole school, Mother Superior was lecturing them speaking of their dreadful misdeeds, and saying how she intended to exact the punishment due. The girls were stunned by her next words.
‘You must truthfully admit that you deserve the punishment; the birching is no less than you deserve.’
The girls hesitated. Then, eyes averted from their gazing companions, they each repeated, ‘I deserve the birching which I am to receive.’ Merely uttering the words caused them to wince: and they sensed the smirks on some of the faces of the other girls.
‘Bend over!’ Thus commanded Mother Superior. As the girls did so, they saw that some of the other nuns also had birches in their hands. They were swishing the cruel twigs through the air. The noise caused Ella almost to yelp out loud, but she gritted her teeth. The very worse in degradation was now taking place, for the nuns who had pushed them on to the stage were now lifting up the girls’ skirts, letting the material flow over their backs. The whole of the rest the school could see three pairs of drawers in a neat line. Briskly, the nuns undid the laces, and the drawers fell to the feet of the offenders. The girls squirmed; they were aware that their very private parts, those private parts which they know they should always keep concealed, were on view.
Ella’s bottom twitched. How she wished it would not! She was conscious of the fact that fifty girls or more were staring at her most intimate region, observing every movement. She wanted the ground to swallow her up. Annie and Mildred possessed similar feelings. Oh, why, why had they fallen for the sin of gazing at those men!
Mother Superior stared at the three naked posteriors sticking out, her eyes moving down to the tops of the thighs and then on to the black stockings. The sight did not please her; but the girls truly needed to be taught a lesson, if they were to avoid the path of the devil. She instructed three of the Sisters to take up their birches and to commence the punishment, each stroke for each girl taking place at the same time.
The twigs seemed to be continually crackling through the air, as the birches swiped down against the unprotected skin, and Mother Superior counted in slow long tones.
At first, the girls tried to keep themselves under control, but by the fourth set of strokes, they were openly crying, their hands instinctively endeavouring to save parts of their most vulnerable rears from the cruel cutting twigs.
Mother Superior allowed a moment’s rest, and then ordered some senior girls to hold Ella, Annie and Mildred down, whilst the next six birchings were delivered. The Sisters administering the punishment did it with a zeal and with great deliberation, catching the most tender spots. Ella felt as if her rump was a furnace, and each twig seemed determined to do its utmost to sting her time and time again. The other two errant young ladies had similar feelings. When it was all over, they were too dazed from the stabbing and smarting to take it in. Their collapsing bodies were helped along to the cells. There they remained isolated from each other, for the night. It was a hellish night. None of them could sleep, and whichever way they turned, they found their rumps throbbing with pain. Sobs and tears kept bursting forth.
From that day, the behaviour of the new girl was so in keeping with the strict lines of her now impeccable uniform that no one could have faulted it. And Annie and Mildred maintained similar high standards. Their posteriors could not face the birch ever again.