It was Kay Johnson’s eighteenth birthday, and she ought to have been in a good mood. School was nearly over for the week, she had her party to look forward to on Saturday, and a lot of the girls in her class would be coming (which showed her popularity), not to mention a number of boys from the grammar school. Her parents had rather dubiously given her the Beatles’ new LP Help, which she was very much looking forward to hearing. Under her very dull pleated grey skirt she was wearing a rather dashing scarlet slip, which her grandmother had rather recklessly gone out and bought for her. She suspected her mother did not wholly approve of this, but her mother would not say anything because she would not wish to offend her grandma.
However, life did not seem quite as good as it ought to be. Possibly it was having to wear nylons and suspenders now she was in the Sixth Form. When she had first donned them it had seemed a liberation, a move towards being an adult woman. However, two weeks experience had taught her that the suspenders and stockings tended to become detached from one another at the most inconvenient moments. Besides, she felt increasingly that she just did not like the tacit pressure to behave now they were Sixth Formers. She had always been a little naughty in class, and she did not see why she should stop it just because suddenly she was a year older.
Kay was really interested in the atomic theory that Miss St. John Hawkins was holding forth on in her rather dry voice, and if the truth be known she had several books out from the Town Library that dealt with aspects of chemistry far more advanced than was necessary for the A level course. However, she did not like to seem too keen to learn, so she thought she would flick a paper pellet at her best friend Joyce Summers, whom Miss St. John Hawkins had decreed two years ago should always sit on the other side of the laboratory bench to stop them chattering. She reached for her ruler, while keeping her eyes on her teacher, who she was quite genuinely listening to. She scrabbled for it blind. It was further away than she expected. She picked it up, and then felt it collide with something. There was a shriek from Joyce. Kay realized she had knocked over one of the bottles of chemicals in the middle of the lab bench! She looked across to see that a full bottle of brown nitric acid was on its side, minus its stopper, and pouring across the bench. Joyce luckily had seen it coming and got out of the way. Kay felt incredibly guilty.
Miss St. John Hawkins, with a speed surprising in one so large and elderly, donned some gloves she kept on her bench, rushed over, returned the bottle to an upright position, and counteracted its effects with an alkali before wiping up the ensuing mess. Then she turned her attention to Kay.
“Kay Johnson, that was quite deliberate! I saw exactly what you did, and we are going to the headmistress to discuss it. Class, if I hear so much as a word when I come back you will all be in detention after school today.”
They walked to the head’s study in absolute silence. Kay’s heart was beating as she struggled to think. Her one chance was probably to tell the truth. Miss Thomson was not silly, and for a grownup she had a surprisingly good sense of humour. She might just accept it was a ghastly accident. But even if her version of the story was accepted, Kay suspected that she was in for at least a week’s detentions. Oh, God! And on her birthday too. What might happen if her version was not accepted did not bear thinking about. Would she be allowed to stay in the school? She rather doubted it.
Miss St. John Hawkins knocked on the head’s door. Miss Thomson opened it and ushered her in. Kay started to follow, only to be told to stay where she was. An agonising ten minutes followed, not helped by the fact that two of her suspenders had somehow come undone during the walk down the corridor, and she wondered what Miss Thomson would say if her stockings started falling down during the interview. But she dared not adjust them here in full view of everyone.
The door opened. Kay noticed Miss St. John Hawkins’ face seemed oddly distressed, and she could not think why.
“You may rest assured this will be dealt with in an appropriate fashion,” Miss Thomson said to her departing head of chemistry, which seemed very ominous to Kay. What was an “appropriate fashion”? She gulped.
“Alright, Miss Johnson, you’d better come in,” said Miss Thomson in a very impersonal sort of way.
Kay walked in, biting back the tears that were beginning to come. No, she was not going to cry! Miss Thomson was on the tall side for a woman, with rather lovely, well-permed black hair that Kay always admired. She always wore the blue skirt suit, which was standard for a woman of her rank, but she always tempered it with a very pretty blouse. Today’s was yellow with some embroidery.
“I like your blouse, miss,” said Kay on an impulse.
“Oh do you, Kay Johnson?” said her headmistress. “Well, I suppose it shows some diplomatic skills for you to say that at such a moment. Thank you anyway for the compliment. And incidentally, happy birthday! No, I have not remembered, but I have just had a look at your file. It’s not a very glorious record, is it Miss Johnson? You visited me well over a dozen times last year. To be fair none of the incidents were serious. You were just being plain old fashioned naughty, and only the quantity of your misdeeds is unusual. However, what has happened today is in a different class. On the face of it you deliberately knocked over a bottle of dangerous chemicals, very nearly injured a fellow pupil, and caused some damage to school property. The evidence is all too clear. Miss St. John Hawkins saw you quite deliberately pick your ruler up and knock the bottle over, and I accept her word without question. However, I suppose I must ask you what you have to say before I expel you. It seems only fair, though I cannot imagine what you can have to say in your defence. It seems all too clear.”
“It really was an accident, miss. I was trying to listen to what Miss St. John Hawkins was telling us, but I thought I would flick a paper pellet at Joyce, so I picked up my ruler without looking and knocked the acid over instead. I am sorry, miss!”
“Kay Johnson, really! Do you really expect me to believe that! It is a very good lie, but really!”
“I am telling the truth, miss, really I am.”
“Miss Johnson, it is quite clear that you did this deliberately, and I am going to expel you—not least because you appear to be calling Miss St. John Hawkins, one of the oldest members of my staff, a liar.”
“That is so unfair! I really did not mean to do it. Have you ever known me tell a lie, miss, in all the times I’ve had to see you? I know I’ve always been naughty, but I have never lied.”
There was an ominous pause, as Miss Thomson deliberately detached her eyes from Kay’s—which were passionately glaring at her with real anger at the suggestion she was a liar—and stared out of the window for a full minute. During this time, Kay found herself wondering if her mother would still get out the hairbrush, now that she was eighteen. Her mother was still big enough to get her across the back of the sofa. And her knickers would come down almost certainly. And the pain would be excruciating. What a way to spend a birthday! But all that seemed slight compared with the fact she was going to be expelled. And in her heart of hearts, she rather liked her school subjects, especially chemistry, which made it all the more ironic… But now Miss Thomson was opening her mouth to give her final sentence.
“I will admit I have never known you to lie to me; and while I am not at all sure you are innocent, still, I cannot be certain you are guilty. Moreover there is the slightly curious fact that Miss St. John Hawkins herself suggested the cane would be much more appropriate, even though we barely use it now, because she thinks you might have a real future, more than most of our girls. And then again, this is your first really serious offence. Anyway, I am prepared to cane you, though it is not a pleasant thing to do, and I am rather annoyed with you for putting me in this position. Are you prepared to accept that?”
“I suppose so, miss. I am sorry, miss.”
She wondered who was the last girl to have had the cane? She suspected it was some while ago. What was this going to do to her popularity? Would she become even more popular, or would everyone despise her for it? Were her remaining suspenders going to pop when she bent over? It was absurd, but this was what was really frightening her, she realized. Surely it could not hurt that much, could it? She remembered uneasily that Grandmama had more than once mentioned it with dread. Surely it could not be worse than the hairbrush, could it?
Without saying another word, Miss Thomson stood up, removed her blue jacket, and hung it on the back of her chair. Then she went over to a large brown cupboard in the corner and opened it. From it she took out a cane. It was about two feet and absolutely straight. Kay shuddered, though she was also slightly startled by how small it was. Miss Thomson swished it hard through the air, and Kay realized just how flexible it was. She wondered whether she would be able to sit down afterwards. Was this going to be six of the best, or less? With luck it would not be that bad. She had been spanked quite hard. With luck…
“Come over here and hold your right hand out about the height of your shoulder.”
“Don’t I have to bend over, miss?”
“No. You surely don’t think I cane girls on their bottoms, do you?”
“I thought that was how it happened, miss.”
“Well, you are wrong there, Kay Johnson. I suppose it is so long since this had to be used that everyone has forgotten. Anyway hold out your right hand. I am going to give you three strokes on each hand.”
Kay did some rapid arithmetic and realized she was having six of the best. Oh dear, this really was scary. She gulped, held out her right hand and closed her eyes. She really did not want to see that thing coming at her. She felt Miss Thomson take her hand firmly and flatten it out. Her heart, which was already beating above its normal rate, raced even more wildly, and she began to weep. She wished she were anywhere else. She heard the swish of the cane and felt its sting.
She had never known anything that could hurt quite so much.
“Please keep your hand still. It will be easier for both of us if you do.”
She steadied herself and took a breath. The cane came down even harder.
“Aah. Aah. Aah.”
“Last one on this hand.”
She clenched her fist hard. She had to take this. She had to. She opened her hand. The cane came down and hurt, but not quite as much as the first two strokes. She clenched it hard again. She very reluctantly held out her left hand. Again Miss Thomson adjusted it. The fourth stroke must have been perfectly timed, for she found herself howling at the top of her voice and pleading for it to stop.
“Please, Miss Thomson, I just can’t take anymore.”
She was very reluctant to hold out her hand again. Miss Thomson waited patiently, and then seeing Kay was just not going to hold out her hand, sighed, took hold of her arm, and walked her over to the desk. Kay opened her eyes and wondered what was going to happen now.
“Lean over the desk. I am going to finish your punishment on the back of your legs. If there is any more fuss, you will be held, and there will be extra strokes.”
Kay decided that in its way, this was quite kind of Miss Thomson. She reached over the desk, shut her eyes, and gritted her teeth. As she bent over just as she had feared her suspenders popped. She felt with gathering panic her slip and skirt being pulled out of the way.
“What a pretty underskirt,” observed Miss Thomson. “But really, Kay Johnson, you should learn how to do up suspenders. It is one of the more useful womanly arts.”
Kay felt very exposed. She heard Miss Thomson messing about in her cupboard. She wondered for a second if she was going to be let off the last two strokes, but then she heard a cane being swished again.
“In case you are wondering,” observed Miss Thomson. “I have just been getting a rather longer cane. I think you deserve a little extra for making such a fuss.”
The cane swished unmercifully onto the back of her legs, just above the knee. She howled and clutched the affected area. She could feel the swelling even through her nylon stockings. Miss Thomson waited quite patiently for her to move her hands.
“One more to come,” said Miss Thomson firmly.
She very reluctantly moved her hands. The cane swished and cracked again, neatly bisecting the welt on her right leg and raising a second mark above the previous one on her left thigh. She found herself jumping to her feet and dancing on the spot, clutching her thighs. As she was dancing, the school bell went for the end of the day.
* * *
There was a knock on the door to Kay’s bedroom, where she was lying face down on her bed and weeping. It was Grandma.
“Mummy tells me you have had the cane and do not wish to come down to your birthday tea. Do you want to tell me about it?”
Kay lifted a tearstained face. Her legs and hands were still horribly uncomfortable.
“Not really,” she said.
“Oh, go on, Kay. Was it really that bad?”
“I got six of the best!”
“That’s tough, but I have heard of worse. What did you do? It sounds somewhat worse than your normal exploits.”
“Upset a bottle of nitric acid. I didn’t mean to.”
“At least you admit it. It was lucky for you I was here. Your mother has just talked to Miss Thomson, who rang. I talked her out of giving you a spanking on top of it. I said you have had your punishment, and now we should forget about it.”
“Thank you, Grandma. Did you ever get the cane?”
“Rather a lot actually.”
“Doing very silly things usually, though occasionally just because I had annoyed someone.”
“Did you ever get it on your bottom? Miss Thomson said I could not have it on my bottom because I am a girl. I really would have preferred it.”
“Oh, I have had six of the best on the seat of my bloomers with a rather larger cane than I suspect you got for persistent insolence to my mother. It was quite interesting. It hurt like hell at the time, but it did something for you I have to admit.”
“What sort of thing, Grandma?”
“I really think that is something we might discuss when you are a little older. Come on! Tea’s ready.”
“Did Mummy ever get the cane?”
“Yes, for talking in class and once for…”
But Kay’s thoughts were drifting away to several photographs of her mother when she was younger. She imagined that unknown creature who was now her mother holding out her hands. Then she wondered if Grandma had always had such a large bottom as she had now and imagined it bent so far over that you could not see the victim’s head, a great expanse of not very thick white material, and the cane about to swish into the soft flesh. Kay felt in some strange way she had joined a club.