Per Ardua ad Astra
Mr Carmichael had retired to his study after giving his usual weekly address to the school as part of the Sunday service in the school chapel. He had hoped to enjoy a little silence to mitigate his inner angst about a world at war, which he had just held forth about at some length as part of the service, but then Miss Symonds had arrived. Apparently she had not wished to bother him before the service with a matter that seemed rather complicated, but she had thought fit to bother him now, at just the point he would have liked some peace by himself.
The wind was beating outside on the bare trees that not long ago had been wild with all the colours of the fall. Mr Carmichael wondered to himself which was more depressing. Was it the overweight woman who was standing before his desk wringing her hands, who he employed as house mother for the senior girls, but also as a math teacher, though he always wondered how she made herself understood with her ugly Southern drawl in this New England school? Was it this banshee of a wind? Or was it the dreadful war in Europe, which the Germans seemed well on the way to winning, despite the Battle of Britain and despite the brief halt that the Russians seemed to have forced the Nazi armies to make before Moscow? And his own mighty country was doing goddam all about it and standing on the sidelines. The world outside America would be Nazi before next winter if this went on, or no doubt partly Japanese; the Japs were doing awful things in China… However, he really ought to find out what this woman was blathering on about. He wondered not for the first time why he had been so misguided as to let her linger on his staff, but even reasonable math teachers were not in great supply and with house mothers perhaps better the one you knew…
“Lord knows, Mr Carmichael, I did not know what to do.”
He paused, realizing he had barely been listening and finally observed, “Please do start again at the beginning, if you please, Miss Symonds. It is no doubt my fault, but I do not quite understand you. You say there was some disturbance in your house last night? Am I right so far?”
“Yeh, Mr Carmichael. Clara and Anna—you know those Yids that came over from Germany with their mom and dad two years back and you told me to keep a special eye on—have never settled in that well. The other kids just don’t like them. They don’t know about chewing gum or film stars or jazz. And it never helps that Clara and Anna have a decent classical musician for a father and go on about Mozart and Beethoven and some modern music I never heard of, let alone the other girls. What do you do when one lot of them says Duke Ellington and George Gershwin and Benny Goodman are the greatest and Beethoven is—excuse me, Sir, but they’ve kept on saying it—‘absolute shit,’ and Clara and Anna go on about modern people no one’s heard of that make horrible noises. A man called Stravinsky, or something like that, they always mention him. Anyway the Schmidt twins have been riling Clara and Anna for months, though those Yids have been giving as good as they get. And there have been stupid little practical jokes by the Schmidts and their pals, but Clara and Anna have been keeping their cool, I will give them that. Anyway last night somehow it got worse over supper and afterwards in the Common Room and I could tell Clara and Anna were getting really mad. In this job you get to know things like that, so I had a word and made them promise to keep cool. I thought they meant it too.”
Mr Carmichael imagined Clara’s lovely flowing black hair and lively face and remembered her ability to grasp a complex Latin sentence. And Anna was a very good athlete, an outstanding runner. If the Schmidt girls were guilty of some sort of assault then he would take very drastic action. Those unfortunate Jewish refugees Clara and Anna needed every protection; they and their parents had suffered quite enough in their own country.
“I was woken in the middle of the night by those Schmidt girls hammering on my door. Those poor creatures were wet from head to foot. Someone had come into their room and pulled back the blankets and thrown water over them. Must have had a bucket.”
Mr Carmichael was startled; he was expecting something the Schmidts had done to Clara and Anna, not the other way round.
“Or buckets,” said Mr Carmichael; one bucket with that much water would be difficult for a girl to carry.
Then he added as an afterthought, “So where are the buckets now?”
“Back in the cleaning cupboard next to the Yids’ room. At least I think they are. I did not count, but I looked, yes, Sir.”
“Where would Anna and Clara get the water if they did it?”
“Run it in the bath in the bathroom just by them.”
“Surely the whole corridor would hear that. Have you asked anyone?”
“No, but they would surely not go to the cleaners’ room, all of a floor below.”
The cleaners’ room was precisely that, a sort of common room for the cleaners, where they drank tea and smoked in between work and it was rarely entered by staff including even Mr Carmichael as headmaster.
“Am I right in thinking the cleaners’ room has a proper sink?” he asked, trying not to sound stupid, but nervous he was not remembering it right.
“It has a proper sink,” said Miss Symonds with the air of someone instructing a small child.
He decided it really did not matter where the water had been obtained and wearily instructed Miss Symonds to send the two Jewish girls, Clara and Anna to him, but after he had had his lunch, which he felt in need of. There would, he supposed, have to be a paddling, even if Clara was his best Latinist. He was certainly not going to ask these particular culprits to leave the school; Anna and Clara were such bright likeable girls. However, he could not just let them off; some sort of action had to be taken and the paddle seemed much the simplest course, he decided with a sigh. But then he thought that at least he could make it clear to the Schmidt twins and anyone else that excessive teasing was not acceptable. Therefore on second thought he asked Miss Symonds to send all four girls to him straight after lunch, which he thought to himself yet again he was badly in need of.
“I am sorry, Sir. We will try not to tease them again, but what do you do with people who don’t even know who Clark Gable is!” Michaela Schmidt was saying with an air of intense reasonableness, which made her headmaster smile a little, despite himself.
Jean, her twin, who had also just apologized, added, “But it is so difficult when they are so easy to tease, Sir. They just rise to it.”
“Well, thank you both for apologizing, but teasing fellow pupils, who are refugees in this country and need friendship and support in ours is a serious matter. Therefore I don’t suppose that you will be that surprised to learn that your backsides are going to feel the paddle for this. If your victims had not been stupid enough to retaliate it would have been four swats apiece,” said Mr Carmichael with more than a slight touch of anger. “However, given the circumstances you will get off with two each, but don’t expect the same mercy next time. You first, Michaela. Assume the position. Jean, you go and wait outside the door.”
Michaela, being a good American child, knew what was expected and assumed the position. Mr Carmichael noted her tiny buttocks and got out a smaller paddle than normal, though he whacked her quite hard. The girl made very little noise, but wriggled slightly. He felt the reaction was not enough and made the second swat even harder; he was rewarded by the sound of sobbing. The girl looked slightly dazed as she left the room, touching the seat of her skirt as she went.
Jean entered, looking uneasy. By contrast to her twin she had a much plumper behind and Mr Carmichael selected a slightly larger paddle. Perhaps because of that, perhaps because she had learned from her sister’s experience that it did not pay to be too stoical, she yelped loudly twice and clutched her buttocks hard in between the swats.
There were quite a few tears running down her cheeks as she went through the door, but Mr Carmichael was not at all pleased to hear her saying in reply to what sounded a fairly mild enquiry from the two Jewish girls waiting their turn, “If you think that is bad, you just wait till it’s your turn. You are really for it!”
However, Mr Carmichael restrained himself from calling Jean back in for another two swats, feeling in some way that it would be slightly unfair and probably not particularly productive. He wondered how Clara and Anna were reacting to listening to their tormentors’ punishment, and how indeed they were reacting to the idea of being paddled; it was probably something quite outside their experience.
He waited a good five minutes before summoning them, thinking they needed some time to think about the advantages of owning up. Would they have the sense to realize that a little contrition would mean a much less severe paddling?
Anna and Clara entered in their white dresses with sailor tops that were the standard school uniform. They were surprisingly different shapes for sisters. Anna was tall and lean and a good runner, who was usually among the prizes in a school that prided itself on its athletic prowess; her hair was black and up in a bun. Clara by contrast was shorter and altogether fleshier and unusually good at Latin and English. Indeed, Mr Carmichael reflected, on happier days she was his best Latin student among the current seniors and they often exchanged jokes in class. Her breasts and buttocks were rather full for her age, but they made her buxom rather than fat and he always found her very attractive, not least her curly black hair, which she wore unusually long.
Mr Carmichael scanned his erring favourites for a sign of willingness to confess. If they did so immediately and without any fuss then he would let them off with just a couple of swats just as he had their tormentors. However, he was not going to tell them that in advance.
He looked significantly from one girl to the next and said, “I imagine you both know why you are here?”
There was an awkward silence, then Clara replied, “No, Sir, we have no idea.”
Oh, dear, they were going to try to face it out! He sighed inwardly.
“I know that you have suffered some severe teasing. I do not take severe teasing that verges into bullying lightly. Indeed as you probably realize I have just paddled the chief culprits. But I am sorry to say that you two have made yourselves also liable to a severe punishment by your silly and unnecessary retaliation. I hope you are going to have the sense to admit what you did and take your punishment?”
“But Sir, we did not throw the water at Jean and Michaela and we don’t know who did,” Clara said with an air of outraged innocence that was very nearly convincing.
He smiled slightly, thinking it was a brave attempt at a lie and said so calmly that it was almost believable. The girl had a certain “chutzpah,” he decided; and then reflected his Jewish friends seemed divided as to whether the word meant “audacity” in a good or bad sense, rather like “metis” in Homer, the classicist in him concluded.
“Can we go, Sir, if there is nothing else?” Clara was enquiring with intense reasonableness.
Caught off balance, Mr Carmichael almost said yes, but then stopped himself.
“No, Clara, you cannot go. A serious offence has been committed and the evidence points overwhelmingly to you and your sister. It would be much simpler if you confessed.”
“We cannot confess to what we did not do!” Anna was saying very brazenly and Clara was joining in with her.
Mr Carmichael found himself getting angry. He hated Miss Symonds for not dealing with this ridiculous feud months ago; her incompetence had left him in the invidious position of having to punish Clara of whom he was extremely fond, but nevertheless he was reasonably convinced of the two sisters’ guilt. Without saying another word he strode over to the tall cupboard in the corner of the room, opened it, fumbled with the paddles on the top shelf, and chose not quite the largest (which he reserved for the oldest boys and was well drilled with holes) but a substantial flat piece of wood nevertheless, which was somewhat larger than the ones he had used on the Schmidt twins. He strode back to his desk and thumped it down with some feeling.
“You are not going to paddle us!” Clara exclaimed. “We are the innocent ones!”
“You are not going to paddle us, Sir!” Mr Carmichael retorted.
“But we are too old, Sir, besides we have not done anything.”
He noticed with faint pleasure that Clara had descended from haughty chutzpah to something like pleading.
“You have a choice, Clara: three swats apiece if you confess, six if you don’t. Well, I suppose I could throw you out of the school, but I am not going to do that. It’s bad enough the way you were forced to leave Europe, and I have a certain amount of sympathy with what you did. You were undoubtedly provoked, but that is not an excuse we accept at this school. Now which is it to be: three or six? It sounds a fair offer to me.”
The girls were looking at one another, but neither said anything. He waited expectantly; surely they would crack and he could go through the motions of a not very severe three apiece. However, despite the emergence of a few tears on Anna’s face, neither was saying a word.
“Please, Sir,” Clara said suddenly, obviously trying to keep her voice reasonable. “Could you not at least consider the possibility that someone else did it?”
“There is nothing to consider. There is no doubt about what happened and you are the only likely candidates to have done it. Now shall we get on with your punishment before you talk me into asking you both to leave the school?”
“Alright, Sir! What do we have to do, Sir?”
Clara was accepting the inevitable with a certain haughty dignity. Anna by contrast was now crying quite a lot. He decided it would be kind to start with Anna, besides if the girl got too worked up it might get complicated.
“You first!” he growled, indicating Anna. “You are going to have six swats, young lady, and you will count each one as they happen. You will put your legs well apart and your hands on the edge of my desk and you will stick your butt out. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Sir,” Anna murmured through her tears.
“Well, do it then! And you, madam, can go and wait outside till I am ready for you.”
Clara walked out of the door. He was pleased to notice that she was looking just a touch discomposed for the first time and glancing back uneasily at her sister assuming the position.
A few seconds later he was contemplating Anna’s firm young butt through her white dress and aiming his paddle carefully at the lower part of it. She had a long back and long legs for a girl and the outline of her rather full panties was quite clear through her dress. He wondered how thick they were.
“Are you ready?” he asked briskly.
“Please, Sir!” Anna was whimpering.
“If you confess even now I will let you off with three swats.”
“No, Sir, I can’t. We didn’t do it.”
He found this curious, but concluded it must be a matter of pride. The girl must want to maintain her innocence because she had never seriously been in the wrong before. He drew back the paddle and thumped it moderately hard into the lower part of the outstretched behind. There was a suppressed “Ahh” and the girl’s butt moved slightly forward.
“Keep sticking your butt out!” he said remorselessly as he had said to numerous boys and a few girls over the previous three years. “And remember to count.”
The butt stuck out again and a very shaken voice murmured, “One, Sir.”
He hit that small wriggling butt again.
“Grief!” said the victim. “That hurt so much. Please, Sir!” Then added, “Two, Sir,” seemingly as an afterthought.
The paddle thumped even harder.
“Yeow! Three, Sir.”
“We could stop now, if you confess.”
“We didn’t do it. Please stop, Sir! I am on fire. You’ve punished me enough!”
He found this curious, but also extremely annoying and he began to use his full force. The girl was thrusting backwards and forwards, but doing as she was told and keeping her butt thrust out and counting after a fashion; but she was now hollering “Yeow, yeow, yeow” almost without stopping and she emitted something close to a scream after each of the last three swats. He felt something close to exhilaration at getting through to the girl.
When it was over, Anna stayed where she was for at least a minute, crying her eyes out and saying over and over again she had never known anything could hurt so much. He wondered whether to say she could go, but then she stood up and held her behind with considerable feeling before asking if it was over. He nodded and she staggered out of the door with the tears pouring and he noticed she was thrusting her hands up her dress in a most unladylike fashion, revealing very pretty, very tight white panties. However, he averted his eyes and did not say anything.
He could hear her sister asking anxiously if she was alright. Perhaps he had been a bit hard, he decided. Anna had almost certainly been led on by Clara. However, now it was his favourite Latin student’s turn and she was going to get no mercy; he was quite sure Clara was the one who had thought the whole thing up and no doubt she had been counting on his fondness for her to make sure she and her sister escaped punishment. He strode to the door and beckoned her in. In marked contrast to her sister, Clara was looking extremely defiant, glaring in his eyes and stomping along.
“Clara,” he said to her. “You look as if steam is coming out of your ears. It must be just pride. You know darned well you and Anna did this thing. Now shall we get on with your punishment? I have better things to do this afternoon than arguing with someone who is lying so hard she is making herself believe her own lies.”
“But we really did not do it!” said Clara, black eyes blazing, “And you have no darned right to paddle us on so little evidence.”
Something in him snapped at that. If the girl was questioning his integrity she deserved everything she got.
“Very well!” he retorted. “If you are going to take that attitude you can have two extra. Assume the position you just saw your sister in.”
He wondered for a moment if she was going to defy him and not take the punishment and he would have to ask her to leave the school, which he did not want to do. However, then Clara walked very hesitantly towards the desk, buttocks and breasts swinging as she walked and looked round uncertainly.
“I am not sure what to do,” she said frantically and it was so obviously genuine that it was almost funny.
He repressed a smile and repeated his instructions of a little while before.
A large female bottom arched up into the air. On an impulse he went and got the larger paddle from the cupboard that he had previously rejected. Coming back, he noticed her face looking up at him. The long black hair had fallen all over it. Unlike her sister there were no tears, but she did look extremely frightened. He wondered if the lies had been the result of Clara being terrified of the paddle. If so she was now going to pay for that cowardice.
He walked round the back of her. Her two large buttocks were very visible through her dress. The shadow of her panties, like her sister’s, seemed to go up to her waist. He tapped her butt low down and heard something like a squeak, though she did not plead. Then he let fly and produced a very loud “ow” followed by gasping and the word “One” uttered barely audibly.
“One, Sir,” he said firmly.
“One, Sir,” she uttered rather faintly.
“Think of it as an experience, Clara. ‘Per ardua ad astra’ as it were. Do you remember how we translated it in class? “
“‘By tenacity to the stars.’ I know it is by Virgil, Sir. One of the Eclogues. Didn’t you say it was something to do with the war?” Clara said, sounding surprisingly conversational.
It crossed the headmaster’s mind that Clara was hoping to delay her punishment till he had calmed down a little, but if so she was going to be disappointed. But maybe a little conversation would make it easier for Clara to cope.
“It is the motto of the Royal Air Force,” he said. “Their puny fighter force has just knocked the mighty Luftwaffe out of the skies in such numbers that the Germans cannot invade Britain. They are calling it the Battle of Britain and we should all be grateful to them. I am surprised you don’t remember that! We talked enough about it in class.”
“Oh, that’s stuff the boys go on about, Sir. I don’t really understand politics and I don’t like wars and battles. Anyway it is not happening over here, is it and I don’t suppose it will. Please, Sir, can we finish my punishment? I hate having to wait like this; it is so undignified.”
“Well, let us see if you can display a little ‘ardua’ on your own trip to the stars,” he remarked dryly.
To his surprise she giggled slightly and he sensed in some odd way he had given her back her courage and he felt less guilty about slowly and systematically thumping some sense into that haughty behind.
She took it surprisingly well at first with just “ows” and “ahs” and a lot of gasping, but then after the fifth swat she broke and put her head back and howled. And she went on hollering even after the eighth swat had neatly slammed into the underside of her opened out buttocks in the same remorseless place as the previous seven. Unlike her sister, she rose from her position and for want of a better description danced, her long hair going all over the place, and she pulled up her dress and clutched the seat of her very stylish and well cut panties, which he reflected must have cost her parents more than a dime or two.
Then she seemed to pull herself together quite determinedly. She lowered her dress and to Mr Carmichael’s surprise said, “I really am sorry, Sir. We should not have done it. We won’t do it again.”
“You could have saved yourself and your sister a lot of pain if you’d admitted that twenty minutes ago,” he observed, thoroughly bewildered.
It did not seem quite right to ask for explanations, so he thanked her for her apology and sent her on her way.
He sat down feeling very odd. Why had the silly girls not owned up earlier? Some dare about getting the paddle, perhaps? He had certainly known something of the sort with boys, but never with girls. Or were they so scared stiff of probably the first real punishment of their lives that they had dug themselves in deeper and deeper with their lies? It was impossible to know, so he turned to the thought of paddling their house mother’s grotesquely large behind, which dwarfed Clara’s. It was impossible to actually do it of course, but the thought was very pleasurable; why on earth had Miss Symonds not dealt with this situation months ago!
He then turned on the radio in his office and heard the first news of Pearl Harbor and these lesser things went out of his mind, at least for the time.