Examining the rod
Image from The Penitents
Rosemary and Edna had both received the dreaded summons to see the Headmistress after lunch. Together they had sat in the secretary's office, waiting to be called in to the study and receive the fate that awaited them. Miss Holloway pretended to busy herself with some typing, but her eyes kept flicking to the nervously fidgeting Fifth Formers.
There had been a locker inspection. Edna had been caught with three packets of chewing gum, a substance strictly banned at Bexhill. Worse, all three packets contained gum of the same lurid colour as the gob which had been found stuck underneath a classroom desk - her desk. She knew that this would probably merit the cane.
Rosemary had been caught red-handed writing in one of the library books. For weeks the librarian had sought the source of the witticisms penned in to the margin of books: at last she had caught the culprit red (or, rather, inky-blue) handed. Since Mrs Winchester had specifically warned at one of the Assemblies that any girl caught defacing library material would be severely punished, she, too, guessed that she might be in for a meeting with the rattan.
Edna was the first to be called in. Both Rosemary and Miss Holloway tried to look as though they were not listening, but they caught each other's eye when the first 'crack!' and muffled cry rang out a few minutes after Edna had closed the study door behind her. There was no mistaking the sound of a cane smacking against bare cheeks. Four more times the sound rang out, followed by a yell. Then silence.
The secretary and Rosemary looked at each other. Had they miscounted? The HM never gave five: it was always six or a multiple thereof.
The mystery was solved when the study door opened and a red-faced Edna appeared, mopping a tear away with one hand, and carrying a broken cane in the other. School tradition dictated that if an implement broke while 'in action', the punishment stopped and the victim was allowed to keep the pieces. They woud be proudly displayed and would attract much peer admiration.
Mrs Winchester appeared behind Edna. "Blasted girl broke my best cane," she was smiling, "and I wasn't even whacking you that hard, was I?"
Edna looked as though she disagreed.
"I must just pop out to see what Roberts the gardener is doing - he seems to be pulling up flowers rather than weeds. Marlene, please would you find another Junior cane, give it to Rosemary, and tell her to wait in the study. Won't be a moment."
Now Rosemary sat and studied the implement that was shortly going to tan her backside. It looked awfully whippy. Miss Holloway had appeared quite flushed when she produced the cane from her storecupboard, showed Rosemary into the study, and told her to sit down and wait. "Good luck!", she'd said, with a funny look in her eyes.
Rosemary's stomach churned. Any moment now she'd have to hand over this slender, bendy rattan, drop her knickers and lie herself over the very stool she was now sitting on.
Oh Lord! She could hear Mrs Winchester's footsteps returning.