Rosemary said that I had been driven to my fate as inexorably as in a Greek Tragedy; she rather fancies herself as a classical scholar sometimes. Of course, it didn’t add up to anything like a tragedy — just a Rather Painful Experience — and far from being driven to it, I must admit I had plenty of warning signals along the way.
From my first day at this school, in fact. Daddy, who is a geologist, had to go off on another two-year job in the desert and at fifteen I was packed off to boarding school once again, this time to Radway Hall. Radway is a boarding school and open throughout the year as a large proportion of the girls have parents abroad, or who have split up, so we can stay on in the holidays. Quite a good place: good standards in class and all very reasonable out of class; I am not complaining.
Actually, it was Rosemary who was listed to show me round on my first day as a newcomer. I’d got to asking about rules and whether they were sticky here.
‘You are expected to know the obvious things,’ said Rosemary, ‘like not flicking ink pellets, no answering-back, no noise in the dorms after 10.30. The mistresses are very reasonable — any of them can give you lines, essays or detentions though. Only if you do the same thing several times over do you get put on Report.’
‘Report. Only for persistent offenders. You’ve really asked for it. The mistress, having tried lines and detentions, and you are still playing up, gives you a piece of paper with your name on it — Patricia T — and a Recommendation, say a One or a Two. You have to take this to the Headmaster same day at 4pm, immediately after classes.’
‘One, or a Two?’
‘Wallops,’ explained Rosemary. ‘With the cane.’
I think I gulped.
‘Cane?… Do you mean they cane you here? I’ve never had the cane, I’ve never even seen a cane!’
‘Oh, they don’t cane all that much. And if lines and detentions aren’t working what else can they do to bring you into line?’
‘So the Head has this cane?’
‘Only the Head has a cane. He has three in fact. You’ll get the middle one until you are over sixteen.’
‘Does it hurt much?’
‘Stings. But you’ll laugh it off. Of course, an RPE is a bit different.’
‘Rather Painful Experience. Quite rare. A dozen girls a term at most. Six of the best, on your bottom. Change into gym-knicks. But the Head is always very fair. Not just breaking ordinary rules, something special. He’ll let you do almost anything once and just give you a wigging. But do it again and it might mean an RPE. Or he might give out a sort of solemn warning in Hall, about something, and then if you did it after that it would be RPE and no excuses. We call it Rotten Painful Experience but you don’t get it without practically asking for it.’
‘I don’t think my father knew about the caning when he decided on this school.’
‘If he can read, he did. It’s in the brochure — something about high standards of discipline expected; corporal punishments may be awarded. Some fathers favour it, choose a school like this just because of its discipline. Supposed to be good for you.’
That was on the first day. I was a little apprehensive then but soon put my fears aside. The mistresses proved to be quite tolerant and reasonable and I just picked up the odd hundred lines and a couple of detentions, in my first term. But I do have a bad habit of arguing when told off about something. Miss Mason warned me oh, three or four times, and then — in my second term — she lost patience and gave me a Report, marked two. So off to the Head’s study at 4pm. A bit trembly as I’d never had the cane before.
Two other girls were waiting there. I asked if it hurt much and they said not too badly. Best to go in first if this was my first time and get it over with. I decided to wait though. The door soon opened and in went girl number one. I think I could just hear the swish of a cane and then she was opening the door and managing to smile quite brightly. In went girl number two. Another swishing noise, door opening, rueful smile this time, then she was blowing on cupped hands. My turn next. Perhaps I hesitated, not quite knowing what to do. The door opened wider and the Head looked out enquiringly. Anyone else? Yes, me. I went in, clutching my bit of paper. The head indicated that I was to hand it over. He glanced at it, then moved over to a side table and took up a cane. He turned and looked at me expectantly.
‘Well, hold out your hand!’ I managed to stick out my right arm, limply, hand tightly clenched.
The Head smiled. He looked back at the paper to check my name.
‘Patricia, have you never been caned before.’
‘And how old are you.’
‘Well, a cane stings, yes, but most girls of fifteen take it cheerfully enough.’ He was still amused and spoke quite kindly, if firmly.
‘Now Patricia, stretch your right arm out fully at shoulder-height, open your hand, and let your palm face towards me. Hold your palm steady until you feel the cane across it. It will sting but you are expected to keep your hand still to receive it.’
He put down the cane he was holding and took the other, thinner, one from the table. He was going to let me off lightly, as a first-timer.
Swish! A sudden hot line of pain across my palm. This was how it felt! I must have stood there wonderingly, arm outstretched.
‘Patricia, you can put your right arm down. Now let’s have your left hand.’ I may have trembled a little but managed to get my arm up. ‘Fingers stretched out! Thumb turned back!’
He put the cane back on the table. He took up the thicker cane.
‘You don’t want to be punished with a child’s cane, do you?’
No, I didn’t. I was fifteen. Must stop this trembling. Stiff upper lip.
Swish! This time a hotter, wider, streak of burning pain across my left palm. Nasty. Thicker cane, hurt more. I remembered to drop my arm. Both hands now burning, pain spreading beyond the first narrow lines, all over palms. I tried clasping my hands behind my back to ease the pain.
‘All over, Patricia.’ He opened the door for me. I made off speedily, holding my hands clasped tightly in front of me. I tried blowing on them — that helped. Then I tried squeezing my hands under my armpits — I had seen another girl do this once. The pain was easing, the throbbing less pronounced. Ten minutes later I hardly felt any sting but the cane marks — red bands across the palm — were still noticeable, the whole palm was reddish. By breakfast next day, the cane marks had gone.
Did I learn my lesson? Well, for a while. Then I was arguing back again and got two or three reports more before my sixteenth birthday; two cuts each time. I knew what to do now and I managed to come out smiling if anyone was waiting outside. Caning was not all that bad — soon over with, anyway.
I had given no more thought to the possibility of a Rather Painful Experience. Half a dozen girls, I knew, had been up for it in my first year. Nothing much said about it by those young ladies, at least not in my hearing, and apparently I was at no personal risk.
Then the streaking lark started. It had been in all the papers.
One of the dorms had made up a streaking party and the girls, wearing only the bottom halves of their pyjamas, no top halves — breasts all showing — had streaked into a neighbouring dorm and taken off blankets. They returned them the next morning, no harm done. Then other dorms got more daring and started streaking all the way down the corridors and eventually streaking extended to the floor below, into the classrooms. First, with tops but no bottoms and then with towels; but always with something on for modesty’s sake I suppose. The mistresses must have had a hint of what was going on but made no complaint at first but when streaking went down to the classrooms this was literally going too far. Nobody was punished then but the Head decided to give a solemn warning in Hall: from that morning on, due notice being thus given, any girl found outside her dorm in less than a full set of pyjamas would be in for a Rather Painful Experience.
There was a lull for a few days. Then Dorm Five decided to be more daring than ever and four girls actually volunteered to streak past the Mistresses’ private quarters. Silly thing to do as the quarters are in a separate wing and the girls made so much noise scampering past and giggling away that they were bound to be caught out by at least one of the disturbed mistresses on the return journey. Miss Brewer and Miss Turnbull were both woken up, shot out in their dressing gowns, and the four girls had their names taken. The following day all four were up before the Head in their gym knicks and got six apiece. Four girls admitted it was a Rather Painful Experience.
Another week went by and this time two girls actually streaked out of the building and into the garden. Their route was carefully planned and both got back without being caught. But the mistresses had heard about it and the result was yet another announcement by the Head in Hall: this time a MOST AWFUL SOLEMN WARNING. Streaking in the building was a nuisance, a disturbance to be deplored: but streaking outside the building with the public passing by, or people leaving staff cottages, was plainly indecent and intolerable. It had to stop.
Any girl found streaking outside would enjoy her RPE then and there, that very evening — even if the Head had to be specially called down — and she would enjoy it dressed — or rather undressed — just as she was. Heaven knows it was a fair enough warning. Yet somehow we didn’t heed it, or we thought we could get away undetected. I was in Dorm Eight and so far we had done no streaking. Then the subject somehow cropped up and some of us felt we should have a run if only to win pride of place over the other dorms. I’m afraid I was taken up with the idea. Four other girls also said they’d like to do a streak. I suppose really we didn’t want to — each was just daring the others. So we would streak — but where? somewhere really daring this time. We decided — oh, so very foolishly — to make for the fish pond and back. Ridiculous really to think we would get all that way — and back — without raising the alarm. And, of course, we didn’t make it.
Lights out, there is meant to be no more talking but we whispered on for half-an-hour and then the five of us were out of bed, slipping off pyjama trousers, and laying them out on our bed-covers. This was an essential part of streaking, to prove there was no cheating, no lack of daring on the run: we were really going to show off our bottoms and our hairs up front. Then we were off, along the corridor, down the stairs, through the classroom area, through the kitchens — unlatch the kitchen door — into the garden and down to the fishpond. Then a quick turn and back. We might yet make it, but we didn’t succeed.
The five of us returned in good order to the kitchen, latched the door, through the kitchen, past the classrooms, almost to the stairs. Then suddenly a light was switched on and I became rooted to the foot of the stairs. The other girls said the same thing afterwards: the minute the light came on we simply lost any ability to move. We just stood and stared aghast at a fully-dressed Headmaster (he may have been reading late), flanked by two mistresses in dressing-gowns. Then I suddenly realised what I wasn’t wearing and started to pull down the hem of my pyjama-top. If I held my hands in front of me nothing actually showed.
I looked to my side and saw Alison and Jeanne and Gisene (she’s from Germany) doing the same, holding down their jackets like mad, but Julie faced the other way, rigid like the rest of us, clutching the hem of her jacket at the back but still showing quite a lot of girlish bottom.
The Head was speaking, oh so very quietly. ‘Did any of you girls not hear my warning in Hall?’ Well, of course, we all had. ‘I said that punishment would be immediate.’
Nods all round. Anyway, we wouldn’t have to wait until four next day. Not a happy ending to the streak but let’s get it done with.
‘I said that any — er, streaker found outside the buildings would be punished as she stood?’
Yes, we had heard that too.
‘I confess that I did not have in mind quite the degree of nudity you have adopted and I am prepared to modify my warning so that any girl who wishes may now proceed to change into gym costume.’
He looked at us expectantly. Perhaps he felt he had overdone his threat, or was embarrassed about having to cane us like that, so he gave us a chance.
Perhaps we should all have chased off to change into gym knicks but we all just stood there, feeling helpless, tongue-tied, just nodding.
‘You appreciate a caning will be particularly painful without, er, garments?’
None of us dared say anything.
‘But it will, indeed, be particularly appropriate. Miss Brewer and Miss Wallace will, of course, be present. Proceed to my study!’
We shuffled off, sideways fashion, as that kept most of the essentials hidden. Jeanne was ahead of me and I was only too conscious that she was showing all her long legs, a lot of thigh and most of her bottom. I must be much the same. And in the study I supposed I would have to touch my toes or bend over a chair (notions picked up from school stories) and then all my bottom would show!
At the study now. Head unlocks door, feels for lights and switches on. Mistresses enter first, Head ushers all five of us in. We are told to find chairs and sit down, bit of a scramble as we do so.
I’m holding my pyjama top well down and only conscious of my thighs now. At sixteen and five-feet-three there is a lot of thigh. Head goes to cupboard and reaches for cane. This will be his No.3 cane, which Rosemary mentioned, I’m sure. It is: longer, a bit thicker than those I had seen previously — and felt then. The Head is flexing the cane in his hands: very pliable: he releases the end and it springs back into shape at once. The Head is explaining procedure; must have thought it out on the way here.
‘I cannot cane five girls at once. I must take each in turn. I shall endeavour to punish each equally but my stroke may be lighter with the last than with the first. On the other hand, the last to be caned will have waited whilst the others were punished, perhaps as much as fifteen minutes. Does any one of you wish to be dealt with first?’
Each looked at the others, no one volunteered.
‘Very well, Alison happens to be nearest and she will be punished first.’ I was next to Alison so I guessed I would follow.
‘Each of you will, of course, be punished privately in my sitting room. Miss Brewer will be present. The caning will be a Rather Painful Experience for you as I expect to cane a girl this severely only very rarely in her stay here. The punishment must be sufficient to ensure no further disregard of my warning.
As the caning is severe, it is administered across the seat and on this occasion, since you appear so little concerned about the normal habits of dress, the seat will be unprotected. You have brought this upon yourselves. There will be six strokes, four of moderate power to prepare for the remaining two, which will be soundly punishing.’
The Head turned towards his sitting-room, a nod to Miss Brewer and she went in.
Then Miss Brewer told Alison to come in and she shut the door. Well, we heard the cane thrash through the air and go thwack! six times. Poor Alison, poor us! Then Miss Brewer opened the door and Alison staggered out. She was panting, eyes screwed up to fight near-tears, she was biting her lip and her hands were all over her bottom.
I just had time to take this in when Miss Brewer called my name. I hadn’t been in the sitting room before (parents were given tea in there) but as expected there were several armchairs and little tables as well as a desk. The desk was all that would matter to me: there was a cushion on it and the Head told me to place my tummy on the cushion, bending over, with my hands reaching over the other side of the desk. Undignified, but I had to do it. And my pyjama top rode up more and more as I stretched into the required position, practically gathered behind me, on my left. He tapped his cane at the back of each of my knees, so that I bent them, and he tapped the inside of my thighs to open my legs. I heard a swish! and a long line of pain — worse than the pain I’d known on my hands — shot across the upper part of my bottom. I gasped at that and slithered forward on the cushion, my bottom doing the natural thing which was to try to get out of reach of this nasty cane. Another swish! and another flash of searing pain across me, lower down.
Another gulp or gasp — he must have heard it — and I know I was squirming about, pushing the cushion forward, trying to get out of reach. I felt the Head’s hands gripping my thighs, pulling me back, so that my bottom was rounded over the edge of the desk again. I realised now that I must clench my teeth, grip firmly with my hands; squeezing my bottom up tight might lessen the pain. Now, I supposed, the rest of the strokes would fill in the gap between the upper and lower lines I could feel burning into me. But no!
He brought the cane down along my left cheek, almost vertically, top to bottom. I heaved to the right, my legs were threshing in the air, my hands had lost their grip. He got me steadied again, back in position, and then a similar snaking stroke the length of my right cheek. Another involuntary lunge away from the cane, more slithering and squirming, legs up and down, my hands desperately clawing for any sort of grip. These four strokes, patterned like a square over my bottom, were the moderate strokes! The initial lines of hot, stinging, pain were now widening across, and up and down my cheeks. My poor bottom was throbbing madly, the burning spreading all over, it must be very, very tender.
And now the two punishing strokes to come. Surely he had made my bottom too tender, too precious, to take any more? Yet the cuts came. The Head must have changed position again and raised the cane high, for the fifth stroke fell almost diagonally, left to right, across both cheeks. It bit deep and the flash of hot pain across an utterly tender bottom was unbelievable. My bottom just bobbed up and down repeatedly.
I lost grip with my hands, my legs flew wide apart and I just didn’t care about anything any more. There was a final stroke to come. I knew he would place it diagonally, the other way. I just lay there, all sprawled out, squirming, quivering, almost whimpering. And it came as I thought, cutting in deep, indescribable stinging pain, and once more I was in tumult across the desk, writhing, twisting and threshing all the lower half of me as if this, in some magic way, would make the pain diminish.
The tumult subsided, I got my body into control again, and Miss Brewer helped me off the table. I just managed to stand on my feet but my legs were unsteady for a few moments. I supported myself with a hand on the desk and unthinkingly dabbed at my eyes with the hem of my pyjama jacket. No longer the searing pain across my bottom but it was burning hot, throbbing terribly.
I started to walk to the door and the soreness was terrifying.
Would I ever recover? In slow, stiff steps I somehow got out of the sitting-room, through the study — I just ignored the faces who must have gazed at me anxiously, searching for just a little hope. I put my hands to my bottom and, unladylike though it may have been, I tried to smooth away the heat as I walked slowly up the stairs and back to the dorm. I sank face down on my bed, utterly exhausted. None of the other girls spoke, nor did Gisene or Jeanne or Julie as each in turn came back and flopped on their beds.
The chat came in the morning. We had all managed to sleep somehow and I know I woke surprisingly refreshed. Everyone in the dorm, and lots of people from other dorms (who looked in to get the details once the news was out on the grapevine) bombarded us with questions. We gave all the details. We agreed absolutely that it was a Rather — indeed a Terribly Painful Experience. Yes, our bottoms were still tender, rather sore. Could they have a look?
Well, they could. We wanted to see for ourselves anyway. I had to stand on a chair, looking over my shoulder, to get the full picture in the mirror. The girls gathered round, meaning to be sympathetic but Julie as usual managed to find a giggle in it. She just looked at my poor, poor bottom and chortled. She usually chooses the right words.
‘It looks like streaky bacon,’ Julie said.