It was the first time for all three of them, although they'd had it coming ever since they'd started at Bexhill School for Girls a few weeks previously. They were boisterous by nature and had rapidly become firm friends, to the dismay of some of the staff, and the Headmistress in particular. Not that she was against friendships amongst the girls - far from it - but these three just seemed to egg each other on to more and more trouble.
They had been reprimanded for running and shouting in the corridors; they had been told off for talking in chapel; their Dormitory Captain had threatened them with a slippering if she again caught them whispering to each other after Lights Out; and several of the teachers had complained that they were disruptive in class.
But all that paled into insignificance compared to what had happened at the morning break. Just where the girls had obtained water bombs from was a mystery; what was beyond dispute was that a furious battle had broken out, cheered on by excited Fourth Form bystanders, during which each of the girls had been soaked by direct hits from the fragile bombs which they hurled at each other. The squeals from the playground had alerted the staff in the Common Room, who had hastened to restore order. But they had failed to arrive in time to avert catastrophe. One errant water bomb sailed over the school wall and unerringly struck the vicar.
The squeals and cheers had been very suddenly silenced as all concerned, pupils and teachers, took in the horror of what had happened.
Now, an hour later, the vicar had been mollified and the girls - dressed in fresh, dry uniforms - had presented themselves nervously in the headmistress's study. The vicar was sitting in armchair, glaring at them.
Sally was first. She was told to pull her knickers down and bend over the infamous 'punishment table'. The Headmistress had been blunt almost to the point of being monosyllabic: "Twelve!" she'd announced sharply, tapping Sally's bottom with the heavy wooden paddle.
Sally had managed the first five with rapidly decreasing dignity, but when she had leaped up as the sixth stroke lashed against her cheeks, her hands clutching at the blazing sting, the Headmistress had curtly told her friends to hold her down, threatening them all with extras if Sally moved again.
There was an interlude while they secured a grip on Sally's wrists, and then the Headmistress raised the paddle high above her shoulder. The vicar smiled grimly.