Letting the School Down
“Well, Joy MacLean, what can I do for you?” enquired Miss Randolph, glancing with faint amusement at the captain of the First Hockey XI who had just stepped, looking distinctly fraught, through her headmistress’s door.
“Some headmistresses,” thought Miss Randolph, “might well consider the ferocious knocking that had preceded Joy’s entry to be verging on rude.” However, she was fond of the girl and part of her fondness derived from Joy’s directness. With Joy you always knew where you were, which was in marked contrast to a fair proportion of the other more devious and feminine creatures she often had to deal with. Besides, Joy was a county-level hockey player and a very good captain and the First XI’s results this season had been most pleasing.
“The Rump, I mean Miss Rumpole, is going to leave Annie, Anne Kennedy, I mean, miss, out of the team for this afternoon against Colerton.”
Miss Randolph smiled sardonically as Joy stumbled from schoolgirl slang into adult speech.
“And do I gather you feel this is a wrong decision?”
“Of course it is, miss. Annie has scored more goals than anyone else this season.”
“So, what is Miss Rumpole’s logic? Has she told you why she is doing this?”
“She says Annie did not score in the last match and Jane Allen has not had a game all season and is a more creative player, whatever that means, miss.”
Miss Randolph restrained herself from saying what she knew to be the truth; that Jane Allen was undoubtedly Miss Rumpole’s pet and Miss R had probably been itching all season to edge Anne Kennedy out. And of course Joy and Anne had been best friends all the way up the school. Altogether an explosive mixture, she decided.
“Is there any other reason that you know of, as to why this is happening?” Miss Randolph enquired very formally, hoping to find room for manoeuvre in this very tricky situation.
Joy shook her long blond hair and looked quite awkward. Miss Randolph wondered what the girl did not want to let out. She was sure there was something.
“I could ask Miss Rumpole…” Miss Randolph observed.
“The R…, I mean Miss Rumpole, Miss Randolph, caught Annie having a fag just before the game with St. Helens High; that was the last game, miss. And she says smoking shows a lack of team spirit and was probably why she did not score, miss.”
Miss Randolph reflected to herself that if Miss Rumpole had wanted to be really mean, she could have sent the very pretty Miss Kennedy to her for a couple of sharp swishes. Not that she would have caned her that hard. Smoking was something senior girls did; it was a fact of life. On the whole she preferred to ignore it.
“So what did Miss Rumpole do? I presume she did something.”
Joy drew a breath and said, “She slippered her, miss, just before the match. It was stupid. Annie was really upset and did not play anything like her best.”
“How severe was it?”
“I don’t know, miss; she took her in a room by herself. Certainly Annie came out crying a lot.”
“Well, it sounds not undeserved. If you flagrantly break school rules, even if you are in the First Hockey XI, you cannot really expect to escape scot free, though in many ways with a senior girl I would have thought withdrawal of privileges might have been more appropriate. It was, as you say, a silly thing for Miss Rumpole to do just before a match.”
“Are you going to do anything about it, miss? We have got to get on the bus in half an hour.”
“No!” said Miss Randolph very firmly. “Your friend broke the rules, Joy MacLean, quite apart from anything else. However, do let me know if Jane Allen fails to impress this afternoon and I may well request Miss Rumpole to have Annie back for the following match. But I want hard facts, not schoolgirl gossip. Do we understand one another, Miss MacLean?”
“Yes, Miss Randolph. Thank you, Miss Randolph.”
“Good. You may go, and I hope you and your team will do your best this afternoon despite all this. Colerton are good. They would be a real scalp.”
Joy MacLean’s tall athletic figure exited through the door. Her headmistress’s eyes followed her. She decided that before very long Miss MacLean was going to attract a lot of men! Still, Miss Randolph thought to herself, she had handled a potentially very tricky situation rather well. Definitely she deserved a cup of tea.
Miss Randolph never liked waiting for the results of her school’s matches, but nor did she approve of rushing out and greeting the team bus if it was an away match, or indeed of standing shouting from the side-lines if it was a home match. Therefore, by longstanding convention, she sat herself down in her study at about the right time and waited for the news. If it was a defeat, the rather shame-faced team captain nearly always came alone. Miss Rumpole only appeared for sure if there had been a victory. She usually appeared if there was a draw. She only came in the case of a defeat if it had been unusually heroic for some reason. Miss Randolph had long ago concluded that Miss Rumpole was not inclined to take responsibility for defeat and that was how Miss Rumpole was. Since Miss Rumpole was, on the whole, a very good games mistress, Miss Randolph always let it go, though she did not really like her games mistress only owning up to her successes.
At all events, about half past five, Miss Randolph took herself from the large flat that went with her job down to the main school building and her study and waited. Somewhere in the distance she could hear the noise of the bus returning and the usual racket of the girls rushing out to greet their team. This meant little as the juniors seemed to yell as much for the team arriving as the actual result. She waited patiently.
After perhaps five minutes, which seemed very long to Miss Randolph, for she was longing to have the pleasure of Colerton’s scalp, who her First XI had not beaten for two years, there was a knock at the door. She barked, “Come!” in her usual fashion, reflecting that this could well be about something totally other than the match. However, Miss Rumpole entered. Looking at her very solid and muscular figure in its grey track suit, Miss Randolph reflected she felt more than a little sorry for Anne Kennedy; a sound slippering from Miss Rumpole would hurt a great deal. She wondered if she should raise the topic. She did not like a normally well-behaved girl being treated like this.
She noticed Miss Rumpole was looking extremely angry and wondered why. Had Joy been a little too forthright? It would be quite like Joy. Anyway, where was Joy? She ought to be here.
Miss Rumpole seemed reluctant to begin the conversation, so Miss Randolph politely asked how the match had gone, thinking that since Miss Rumpole had deigned to appear, the result must almost certainly be a win or a draw.
“We got thrashed; three nil. An absolute shambles. I had a new centre forward, Jane Allen, much better than that stupid Kennedy girl, but the rest of the team would not pass to her. It was a disgrace and quite deliberate. It was pretty clear they wanted to lose.”
“I expect they resented Miss Kennedy being replaced so abruptly,” Miss Randolph remarked quietly. “I did hear about it and wonder myself if it was the right decision.”
“I am of the opinion that the whole team except Jane Allen should be punished. They let the school down terribly.”
“What punishment precisely are you meaning?” Miss Randolph enquired, wondering if Miss Rumpole was seriously suggesting what she appeared to be suggesting.
“A jolly good caning for the lot of them, of course, and preferably expulsion for their wretched captain. I have never seen disobedience and defiance on such a scale.”
“No! In no circumstances! The girls made a perfectly reasonable protest about something that, frankly, Miss Rumpole, I feel I should have been consulted about. Now have you anything more to say?”
“Yes, a good deal, Miss Randolph. That awful impertinent miss, Joy MacLean, swore at me in a most abusive fashion when I tried to reprimand them at half time. I would not have thought a well brought up girl knew such words.”
“You mean Joy MacLean used real swear words?” said Miss Randolph with a sigh in her voice, knowing that with Joy it was all too likely.
“Yes, ‘fuck you’ and a lot filthier than that. I am amazed she knew some of them.”
“Well, we cannot have that!” said Miss Randolph with more conviction in her voice than she felt. “And for that Miss MacLean will have to be dealt with. Why is she not here with you, Miss Rumpole?”
“I told the whole team they were confined to their quarters. I thought that the most appropriate thing.”
“No doubt you did, Miss Rumpole. However, you can now go and find each one of those girls yourself, without any help from anyone else, and tell them from me that they are free to resume normal school life without a stain on their character. The only exception is Joy MacLean, who you had better send to see me.”
Miss Rumpole looked as if she was on the verge of an explosion of major proportions. Observing her rapidly reddening face and contorted mouth, Miss Randolph wished very much that Miss Rumpole would say something that would warrant her immediate dismissal. However, the games mistress must have realised what was in her headmistress’s mind and with a visible effort said she would go and do as she was bid, though she totally disagreed with it.
When Miss Rumpole had gone, Miss Randolph rather wearily opened her cupboard and extracted a long thin cane. Then she sat down at her desk, reflecting she did not know whether to laugh or cry. She had caned Joy MacLean once before; a stroke on each hand with a much smaller cane for impertinence in class. The girl had behaved with great dignity and not even cried. It had impressed her very much at the time. Miss Randolph sat and waited, feeling the world was a very unjust place.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come!” shouted Miss Randolph.
The door opened and the tall elegant figure of Joy MacLean entered. Miss Randolph noticed that the girl’s long blond hair must have been put into a ponytail for the match and not yet taken down. Joy walked by easy strides and stood in front of the desk. It was hard to make out from her face what was going on in her head. The only visible sign was that she was very tight-lipped. There was no sign of tears.
“I hear you led a little rebellion?” said Miss Randolph in a very neutral tone.
“We did not think it was fair, miss. Annie should have played. I hope you don’t think we let the school down, miss?”
Miss Randolph paused, then said, “I think that learning to stand up against wrong is something that a good school is very much about. No, I do not think you let the school down and I have already told Miss Rumpole that. However, I am very displeased to learn that you swore at Miss Rumpole at some length, which something tells me you are not going to be able to deny.”
“No, miss, I did swear. I am sorry about that.”
“I am glad you admit it. Otherwise I would have expelled you. As it is, swearing is behaviour I will not tolerate and you are going to be caned for it. However, before you are punished, would you be kind enough to tell me just why you swore like that? Was there any particular reason?”
“At half time she threatened to slipper us all after the match, miss, if we did not buck up in the second half. And we all said we would not take her punishment. And she said she would get us all caned or expelled if we did not take it. That was when I swore, miss. I am sorry about that, miss.”
“Well, I can understand your feelings, but I will not have foul language and that is the only issue I am concerned with at this moment. Now, shall we get it over with?”
Miss Randolph stood and picked up the cane and walked round the front of her desk.
“Stand back a little, would you, and hold out your right hand about the height of your shoulder.”
The girl obeyed, seemingly quite calmly.
“What am I going to get, miss?”
“Two on each hand. Are you ready?”
“Yes, Miss Randolph.”
She reflected it was rather a small soft palm that she was about to bruise with this long thin cane. She raised it and aimed it carefully. She noticed the girl’s eyes were closed and her mouth was tight. She brought the cane down with the careful timing she had learnt, in her years as a headmistress, really hurt. She was rewarded with a yelp of real pain.
She reflected that, though she was being very tolerant, the school had been let down really rather badly and this punishment was at least as much about this as the swearing, but she was not going to admit it. She aimed the cane carefully again. There was a suppressed scream and the sound of tears.
She reflected how much more and how deliberately she was hurting Joy than that first time over that little feud with Miss Pearson in the fourth form. The girl was clenching her fist and sobbing her eyes out. Miss Randolph paused briefly to let her victim recover very slightly, for she did not want a scene, then told her to hold out her other hand.
This was rather reluctantly extended with a good deal of pleading that this was enough. Please, could it stop? By way of answer, Miss Randolph swished the cane down hard and the girl howled. There was another pause before the victim could bring herself to hold her hand out again. Then one final beautifully timed stroke and Joy was howling and clutching her hands together.
“You were braver than that the last time I caned you!” observed Miss Randolph dismissively.
“You did it so much harder, miss. It just hurt so much. I never knew anything could hurt so much.”
“Well, you can comfort yourself with the thought that this will almost certainly be your last caning. Indeed, if anything like this ever happens again, you will be expelled. Now get off with you, and don’t let me see you over anything like this ever again.”
The girl staggered out of the room. Her headmistress watched her retreating figure, wondering if the girl would have suffered more or less if she had been punished on the seat of her knickers as was the fashion in at least some schools. However, they had always caned hands here. It had been the custom long before she had become headmistress; she had merely inherited the tradition. Then she shrugged and put the cane away, thinking to herself it must have been the most severe caning she had ever given.
Then Miss Randolph went and sat at her desk, feeling very odd indeed as she found herself imagining an altogether different scene than the one that had just taken place. Miss Rumpole was presenting the seat of her very full and inelegant knickers to the same cane that had been used in real life on Joy MacLean’s hands. And that horrible woman’s large behind was thrusting wildly and she was howling for mercy. Miss Randolph did feel that if this had happened it would have been eminently deserved, for she did not like bullies and to her mind Miss Rumpole was very definitely a bully.
Then for some reason her fantasy changed and she was about to administer a very sound six of the best to Joy MacLean’s very pretty young behind; and it was of course necessary to lower the girl’s pride by taking down her knickers. She could imagine the pleasure of telling Miss MacLean to bend over, and the indignant look on her face, then lifting up the girl’s gym slip and fiddling with the buttons on the side of the knickers before sliding them down the girl’s long thighs to her knees. Being Joy of course she did not plead, but you could almost feel her quaking. Then she stood back and took aim, enjoying the quite wide space that was visible between the girl’s small buttocks. And then three of the best across the middle of said buttocks. The welts rose visibly. Joy, cried a little, but still did not plead. Then three more hard swishes applied slowly and deliberately across the first three and the girl began to shriek…
However, in real life Miss Randolph detached herself from this interesting imagination and opened the punishment book, wondering what to write for the reason of the caning. In the end she put: “Letting the school down badly and swearing at a senior teacher.” And yet she had told Joy specifically that she had not let the school down! Very odd.
Then after some deliberation, during which she returned to her interesting vision of Miss Rumpole bent over in her vest and large knickers howling her head off as the cane exacted its retribution, she took a sheet of headed note paper, dated it, and wrote:
Dear Miss Rumpole,
It has come to my attention that you appear to have lost the confidence of certainly the First Hockey team and possibly others. I have also learnt that you have been guilty of using or threatening to use unauthorised corporal punishment on senior girls. For these reasons you are dismissed and are required to leave the premises within twenty-four hours. According to your contract you will receive one month’s pay in lieu of notice.
P. Randolph (headmistress)
And now, she thought to herself, there was the boring job of trying to find another games mistress. She wondered if the girls of the First XI had any idea how much trouble they were causing their headmistress? Oh, well, they were only girls and on the whole good girls.