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Tardiness is never a virtue at school and at Bexhill it was considered a serious vice. Samantha had already been cautioned twice about turning up late for class, so when she rolled in 10 minutes late for History on Monday morning, it was no surprise that the Headmaster - who was taking the lesson - told her to wait behind afterwards.
As Samantha took her seat, Linda, with whom she shared a desk, put her hand in front of her mouth and - looking straight ahead - muttered "Swish! Thwack! Ouch!" Samantha dug her elbow into Linda's ribs, causing her friend to cry out in surprise. The Headmaster, who had been writing notes on the blackboard, spun round.
"Who was causing that disturbance?"
20 pairs of eyes tried to indicate innocence. The HM glared at the girls for several seconds.
"One more disruption and I'll take the paddle to the lot of you, just like Miss Sylvester did [a reference to the legendary mass paddling of her biology class by Miss Sylvester. See Bexhill Book 3, Six Across]."
The boring history lesson dragged by, each minute seeming like an hour to Samantha. Every so often Linda would hide her mouth with her hand and whisper "Thwack! Six!", and a little later "Thwack! Seven!" Samantha tried to ignore her. The butterflies in her stomach told her that Linda was probably right and she could expect a caning, but she desperately clung to the hope that perhaps she'd get one more warning, or maybe just the paddle. Although last time she'd had her bottom smacked by that heavy length of close-grained oak it was almost as bad as being caned. She squirmed in her seat.
"Thwack! Ten" murmured Linda, unwittingly prophetic.
At last the bell rang and the class ended. The girls, all except one, collected their books and papers and filed out, some glancing at Samantha with a mixture of sympathy and relief that it wasn't them awaiting her fate.
"Close the door behind you," the headmaster called as the last schoolgirl filed out.
Then he turned to Samantha. His words were brief and to the point.
"Ten minutes late, so ten strokes of the cane, on the bare. Prepare yourself and bend over the stool." He strode over to the teacher's cupboard and extracted the long, whippy rattan from it's hook. Samantha lowered her knickers, hoisted up her skirt, and laid herself over the wooden punishment stool that had hosted her several times before.
It was always the same. The first stroke took her breath away. Samantha leaped up, clutching at the scarlet the stripe that was ripening across both her cheeks.
"Get back down! Interrupt once more and there'll be extras."
After that, each stroke seemed to sear more painfully than the last across her pale cheeks, until the Headmaster delivered the tenth, swingeing lash to that tenderest of spots at the very top of the thigh. It was all Samantha could do not to rear up and massage the furnace that blazed behind her.
"Now, kneel on the stool and write out ten times 'Tardiness is unacceptable'."