A simple-but-lovely scene at Emma Jane‘s the other evening.
Lucy Matthews was a lower-sixth former at St Claire’s, a good girls’ boarding school. Along with a few of her friends – and one of their staff, Mr Jenkins – she was participating in a term-long exchange programme with a US school.
Some weeks into their stay, Lucy found herself late one weekend evening knocking sheepishly at Jenkins’ study door. She knew why she was there, of course: she and three of her new American friends had been caught playing truant that afternoon.
Of course, she was right that there was no harm in itself in going to experience a ballgame whilst in the States. “But you were given the rulebook to read, and it’s very clear that you must have permission before leaving the campus,” the master explained.
A sullen look: “It’s a very long document.” That hardly helped her cause. The rule, Jenkins explained, was their for the girls’ safety: staff had a duty to know where they were. Her other three friends were, at that moment, in the Principal’s office. And she’d know from the rulebook, and from her fellow pupils, what the punishment was.
And, of course, it would be most unfair if Lucy wasn’t dealt with in same way. “You need to be made to realise why this school has such a strong reputation for discipline.” Only, it had been agreed that it would be more appropriate for Mr Jenkins to punish her. “So I’m going to give you the paddle,” he explained. “Bend over and place your hands on the chair.”
She looked so very vulnerable as she did so, as he took the heavy implement. “I’m going to give you four swats.” They were delivered slowly; hard enough to hurt and teach her a deserved lesson, but not excessively so. Perhaps he wanted her to realise how much more severe a paddling could be if she misbehaved again?
She looked so very sorry when she stood up – but there was more to come. “I’ve also spoken to the headmaster back as St Claire’s.” He’d wanted Jenkins to pass on his disappointment at how Lucy had let down the school and damaged its reputation with their hosts. “And, of course, you’ve broken our rules too. The headmaster agrees with me that that needs dealing with, too.”
“But you’ve already punished me, sir!”
“For breaking our host school’s regulations, young lady. But you are, and remain, a pupil at St Claire’s – and you have broken our rules too, never mind letting down the school.” He walked past her and took a cane from the corner of the room.
“Bend back over. I’m going to give you six of the best: it seems our traditions require more strokes than our American friends. And take down your pyjamas and knickers; you know our tradition is for punishments to be on the bare.”
Her bottom was already bright red from her paddling; the six cane stripes added pattern to her marks. And then she was told to dress. She apologised: “I’m sorry, sir.”
“I know. I’ve persuaded the headmaster that we don’t need to mention this on the punishment list on the noticeboards at school.”
“Thank you, sir…”
He placed a caring hand on her shoulder: “Now: we don’t need to mention this again. Tme for you to go to bed, Lucy…”
And he sent her on her way. (Only, after a few steps, EJ was back tightly in my arms for the tightest of hugs).
I liked Lucy as a character a great deal. I think I’d rather like to meet her again. She’s a sensible girl, I think, and one who’d be duly chastened by her punishment. (And, after all, I’m sure the other American pupils would learn of it, much to her shame). But were she to stray again? Perhaps with Jenkins dealing with her in preference to mentioning the matter to their hosts? And/or maybe she might find herself in trouble with him the following term, back home? We’ll see…!
If you want to see the paddle, by the way – actually a cheeseboard purchased a few days before in Covent Garden – here’s a photo of yours truly with it a few minutes after the scene: