THE LAST CANING AT ST.HILDA'SPoor Adele! Did you think that she had told on her classmates, before you read the ending?
It happened less than three years ago, but it seems much longer than that. I've left school now and hope to graduate next year but that painful and amazing time still haunts me.
I never did decide whether those two girls were hell-raising mischief-makers or just plain bad. Looking back, I think there was no real harm in them, although they made me suffer. But I suppose they felt justified in what they did to me, and I try to understand. There are no welts any more on my bottom, but sometimes, in a nightmare, I feel again the phantom fires eating into each cheek, and I squeeze them until the heat oozes away and I wake and stare into the darkness, remembering.
They were Jasmine Fenwick and Ruby Blanche Cridland. Jasmine, or 'Jazzy', was one of those annoyingly pretty girls who put you in mind of a cat, sort of lean and graceful with flowing dark hair and sapphire eyes. Her friend, Ruby Blanche, was American, from Iowa I think, which I believe is in the Midwest somewhere - I never was much good at geography. Ruby Blanche was at our school - St.Hilda's independent in the leafy glades of Buckinghamshire - because her father was a globe-trotting U.S. businessman who wanted his daughter to have an English education. She was tall and blonde with a glossy look and a figure any page 3 girl would be proud of. See? I can still be generous.
Look, the best way I can deal with this is to detach myself from the events and have someone else tell it, because I always choke up when I think about it..so here goes....
It never seemed fair to the pupils of St Hilda's at the time that if anyone committed a serious enough offence they could still get caned. Corporal punishment continued to remain in force there, even though English state schools had banned it as long ago as 1986 following a European Commission ruling. At St. Hilda's the freedom to continue this traditional form of punishment was exercised fairly infrequently, but exercised it was. Because it was an all-girls school, the Headmaster, Dr. Unwin, rarely wielded the rod, but Miss Curzon, the Deputy Head, did the honours in the privacy of her study. She was left-handed, which gave rise to the double-edged nickname 'Sinister Susan'. Tales were told by rueful seniors who had been on the receiving end of that hefty left arm, that punishment was given on the open palm, searingly hard, and no one who had received it was eager for a second dose.
Jasmine and her friend Ruby Blanche always claimed that it wasn't the pain itself that bothered them, but the sheer humiliation involved in reporting to the Deputy Head with a caning chit, then submitting to being struck with a stick by this stout, grey-haired woman with the grim features and curt voice.
"That old cow's never going to hit me," Jazzy always boasted, and Ruby Blanche would grin, slap her voluptuous haunches and say, "Nor that goat Unwin neither - though as a man he could be worse."
Indeed, Doctor Unwin cut a powerful figure, fiftyish, as tall as Mr. Clinton, the American President and strong with it, being a former British Olympic shot-putter. But let us not digress.
It was a fine spring day in April 1998 when the news broke. During lunch-break Jasmine was strolling in the school grounds when Ruby Blanche came running over. It wasn't like the American girl to run - she was more of a swayer of the hips and bum with her chest stuck out in case any boys or lovelorn lesbians were looking - but today she not only ran, but positively bounded, up to her friend.
"Jazzy, our moment has come," she said excitedly, "as from May this year, caning's being banned in Indie schools."
"You're kidding!" said Jasmine. But her mouth was open and her eyes gleamed with kindling excitement.
"Nope. It's true as Mao Tse Tung's a Chinaman!"
"Just heard it from the Head Girl. Amendment to the Education Bill. It's been passed by Parliament." Ruby Blanche put on her 'posh Brit' voice that never quite sounded right. "Liberal Democrat spokesman Don Foster called caning 'a barbaric, disgusting and degrading practice', dontcherknow!"
"So it is," squealed Jasmine happily, "unless the guy who's doing it is six foot two, slim and gorgeous with a cock like a copper's truncheon."
"Such vulgarity, my girl," carolled her American friend, "merits six stingers with the three-foot cane."
"Not after the end of this month, if what you say is true!" exalted Jasmine. "No more canings at St. Hilda's. You know what this means, don't you?"
"Course I do! We can do all the things we didn't do in case we got a whacking. Now they won't be able to touch us."
"Just think of all the windows we could've broken if they'd banned it sooner," said Jasmine wistfully. "The lessons we could've skipped, the boys we could have met in town..."
"The times we could've overslept, not done our prep, missed Games, ignored detention..."
"And it's nearly May now," said Jasmine, sapphire eyes glowing in her feline face.
"Sure. Just gives us enough time to plan something real bad, bad enough for the cane leastways - and watch old sourface eat out that lump of dough she calls a heart 'cos she can't whack us," exulted Ruby Blanche.
And so it was that on the very last day oh April in 1998, which was a Thursday, the girls emerging from their dormitories and slouching up the leafy drive towards the venerable, ivy-clad school building were amazed to see a large bed-sheet strung above the entrance with the words, in sky-blue paint, 'CANING SUCKS! AND SO DOES OLD FART UNWIN AND HIS SIDEKICK 'GENGHIS KHAN' CURZON!'
At least ninety per cent of the pupils saw this before its presence was drawn to the attention of an apoplectic Miss Curzon, who had it ripped down at the speed of light. A huge fuss was made at morning assembly, with Doctor Unwin saying that if the culprits owned up to him or Miss Curzon by the end of the day they'd be dealt with leniently. He was even quite sanguine about it, pointing out with a hint of a smile that there was a grammatical solecism in the text of the message, so whoever did it was clearly not a student of English Grammar. Ruby Blanche didn't even know what 'solecism' meant, so the giggles which met his remark confused her.
But that wasn't all. Jazzy Fenwick happened to be pretty brill at Chemistry, so to knock up a makeshift bomb in the lab after hours wasn't too much of a problem. What she and her fellow conspirator didn't know was that although the rest of the schoolhouse was deserted at that time, a girl called Adele Dixon was working out in the gymnasium when they broke in.
Adele was supple and petite. A man would say she was curvy in all the right places, mild of manner with lustrous green eyes, and a mop of attractive russet hair. A useful gymnast, she had been working on her floor exercises when a noise upstairs alarmed her. Creeping along to the Chemistry Lab, she saw her two form-mates furtively at work, and heard the American girl say, "This is gonna be one helluva bang!" Relieved it wasn't some intruder from outside, Adele crept away without announcing her presence.
So, that morning on the last day of April, Miss Curzon was intoning prayers as the assembled school stood with heads bowed when an enormous bang went up at the back of the stage. Had the curtains not been drawn shut, people might have been badly hurt when the device went off, spraying out chunks of wood and brick. The place erupted in screams as smoke billowed into the main hall. The fire brigade was called out and all was made safe. But for at least half an hour there was chaos, with a few girls treated for shock. Amid the small area of devastation a piece of charred board was found with the words 'NO MORE CANING - WHAT A SHAME!' The writing was the same as on the bed-sheet, in blue paint.
May came, and everything went quiet. The new ruling wasn't even mentioned, but no more canings took place - it was all detentions or tellings-off and gatings. Jazzy and Ruby Blanche had half hoped their misdeeds would be discovered so they could thumb their noses openly at authority. However, short of making a confession there seemed no way they would be found out.
But in the last week of May, with repairs to the hall completed, Doctor Unwin made an announcement at morning assembly.
"Unless the girl or girls who did the cowardly and irresponsible deed of planting that explosive device in the hall last month," he said, "and who hung that contemptible message over the school entrance, have the guts and the decency to own up by Friday the twenty ninth, the entire school will be gated for four weeks, with participation in all extra-mural activities denied."
That was pretty disastrous. To be confined to the school premises for an entire month was bad enough, but the trip to Paris and other fun outings would have to be abandoned and national holidays ignored. Plus there would be loads more prep.
When it got to the Thursday and no one had owned up, things looked bad. Adele Dixon was due to perform in the Schools Championships at gymnastics in the middle of June - her only chance to get into the combined schools team that would travel the world. So she went to Jasmine Fenwick after supper on the Wednesday and told her she knew she and Ruby Blanche had done it, and begged them to do the decent thing and own up.
"What, and get expelled?" Jazzy sneered. "No way!"
A similar plea to the American girl met with a blank refusal. By now both miscreants were scared of the outcome, because their jape had, literally, misfired so badly. So Adele and many others were approaching despair as the Friday deadline passed. And then, on Saturday the thirtieth of May there was a flurry of activity. Miss Curzon opened the lockers of Jasmine and Ruby Blanche with a master key. The remains of a tin of blue paint was found in the American girl's locker, while Jazzy's contained paint-stained clothing, a detonator and explosive chemicals. The evidence was overwhelming. After a severe interrogation by Doctor Unwin and Miss Curzon, both girls admitted their guilt.
What happened then is etched in the memory of all the girls in the school. On the Sunday, the last day of May, an 'Extraordinary Assembly' was called by the Headmaster in the main hall at 3 pm. The place was packed, with all the pupils, ranged in form order, seated on chairs as if attending a concert. There was a lot of tension as they stared up at the closed curtains which blanked out the stage, whispering and muttering.
"Silence!" boomed Doctor Unwin as he strode out in front of the assembled throng, complete with black gown and mortar board. But what sent a shocked thrill through the assembled gathering was the crook-handled cane, a good forty inches long, held under his arm.
The hush was unearthly as the curtains drew back to show an empty stage on which stood, about twelve inches apart, two tall stools from the Chemistry Lab. A scarlet cushion had been placed on top of each. Girls held their breath, unable to believe what they seemed about to witness.
"School," began Doctor Unwin gravely, "for disciplinary purposes I and my Staff have withheld information about the Government ruling concerning the ending of corporal punishment in this and other independent schools throughout Britain. Rumours have been rife, chief among them being that as from the end of April it became a criminal offence to beat a pupil".
A flurry of murmurs was silenced by a glare.
"In certain cases it's been true that the cane has not been the answer," he resumed. "But some offences are so grave that even expulsion is an insufficient option - and in such cases this..." here he brought the cane from under his arm and whipped it through the air "has thus far been the only truly effective response."
The audience gasped, freezing stiller.
"You all know," Doctor Unwin went on, "about the small explosive device that was planted in the hall, as well as other reprehensible mischief I do not propose to dwell on. Well, the two culprits have been found, and it is my intention to deal with them this afternoon with the utmost severity allowed by the law of the land." He paused, and called into the wings. "Miss Curzon?"
The stout woman with the iron-grey hair stepped into view from the side of the stage. Under her left arm she too held a long quivery cane. Her left hand gripped the arm of Ruby Blanche Cridland, while her right held Jasmine Fenwick. Both girls wore the blue and grey uniforms of St. Hilda's, beautifully pressed, white blouses freshly starched, striped ties neatly knotted, socks turned correctly down just below the knee. They looked smart enough to receive prizes on Speech Day, except their faces gave them away.
Jasmine's cat-like prettiness was marred by swollen eyes and a pink nose. She had clearly been crying and looked cowed and frightened. When she saw the cushioned stools she shrank back with a little cry, but Miss Curzon tightened her grip. Ruby Blanche looked sullen, brazening the assembled school with a bright blue glare. She was trying not to show her own fear but was shaking.
Miss Curzon led both girls to the stools, Jasmine's legs buckling. She looked pale, with a sheen of sweat on her face, and for a moment it looked as if she might collapse. Then the woman positioned the American girl in front of one stool and Jasmine in front of the other, with their backs turned to the audience.
Doctor Unwin took up a position beside Jasmine Fenwick, about three feet to her left, and faced the assembled school, the cane gripped in his right hand. Miss Curzon stood to the right of Ruby Blanche, her cane in her left fist. 'Sinister Susan' looked ready for action.
But was this some sort of scary charade? Hadn't caning been banned for an entire month? The school was about to find out.
"I have sought and gained the approval of the Schools Inspectorate for what is about to occur', intoned Doctor Unwin. "Neither myself, nor the Deputy Head, can be held responsible for the accuracy, or otherwise, of rumours. The fact is that until midnight tonight, on this last day of May 1998, caning in Independent Schools is still legal."
A murmur spread through the hall, so that the Head had to raise his voice. "The two cowardly, insolent vandals you see before you got their dates wrong. And now they are about to reap the reward of their miscalculation."
The audience could see the shoulders of Jasmine Fenwick shaking, and her head sagged forward in an agony of shame. The blonde young American stood more proudly, as if defying her mentors to do their worst.
"This will be the last caning ever to take place at St. Hilda's," the Headmaster resumed, "and I intend to make it a caning to remember for these two culprits. Apart from the well deserved punishment of a pair of wicked young ladies, I ask you all to take cognisance of the fact that you are also witnessing an historic event." He turned to address both girls, his tone quiet and deadly.
"What you have done is far too serious for a routine caning on the hands. You will both raise your gymslips and bend over the stools."
A gasp went up from the hall, silenced by the hisses from gowned teachers stood around the walls of the hall.
"You will each receive an initial six strokes across the seat of your school knickers," the Headmaster intoned, "then your knickers will be taken down for six strokes on the bare bottom."
There came an inarticulate pleading from Jasmine Fenwick, which died off to a low tearful moan. The audience was too awed to do anything but gape as, with Miss Curzon's deft assistance, Jasmine and Ruby Blanche had their skirts raised to their waists and pinned up. Their navy-blue regulation knickers came into view, moulding each cheek of their bottoms and exposing the chubby undercurves as they bent forward across the stools.
Beneath the rounded twin targets now so brazenly displayed, the victims' thighs and the backs of their legs were bare to just below the knee where the socks began. It was obvious that, for the usually elegant Jasmine, the abject humiliation of her position was almost intolerable. The mouths of the audience hung open, saliva dripped, tummies tingled and clenched, hearts beat quicker, thrills of dread and excitement incandesced young bodies unaccustomed to such sights.
Doctor Unwin steadied his stance to the left of Jasmine's trembling form, raised the cane with his right arm and brought it swiftly down. The shaft whooshed through the air and landed with a resounding thwack across the centre of Jasmine's bottom. She shrieked and went into spasm over the stool-top, trampling her feet and making desperate squealing noises. A second later, as if choreographed, Miss Curzon, to the right of Ruby Blanche, lifted her cane and swept it down. The American girl's bottom was larger and more voluptuous than her friend's, and when the cane struck it sank into the plush softness, imparting a biting sting.
Ruby Blanche groaned hard and shivered, shaking her hips, but otherwise gave no sign of how much that stroke had hurt. At once the Headmaster's arm rose and swung the implement down again on Jasmine's smaller, tighter bottom. Her answering screech made the audience wince. Miss Curzon's cane immediately climbed ceilingwards, paused and swung down.
"Ooooooo!" groaned the American girl. Her face reddened and tears of pain dripped down her nose. The next four strokes from each tormentor swept down with appalling pain and accuracy, first from the left on to Jasmine's shapely little bottom; then from the right on to Ruby Blanche's deeper, plusher cushions in a slow thwack-thwack rhythm as regular as a metronome.
When six firm cane-strokes had been delivered to each culprit's knickered bottom there was a pause and then the Head's stern directive. "Girls, stand up!" Ruby Blanche put her hands on the stool-top and managed to push herself painfully upright, but Miss Curzon had to help Jasmine to her feet. Then both girls were directed to change places - it was clear that a fair distribution of Doctor Unwin's stronger caning arm had been thought out.
Responding to a nod from the Headmaster, Miss Curzon took the top of Jasmine's school knickers and peeled them down to her knees, exposing her naked buttocks to the entire school. The American girl's knickers soon followed the same downward path. The entire assembly held its collective breath as it gaped at the two bare bottoms so publicly exhibited, the soft flesh of each now seen to be streaked with six crimson cane-tracks.
Jasmine sobbed, making desperate and desolate pleas of "no...no...nooooooooo" and tried to cover her bottom with her hands, but Miss Curzon slapped them impatiently away and the girl's humiliation was complete.
"Bend across the stools again, tightly. Get right over and grip the strut on the far side," came the Headmaster's voice. He was gazing at the larger, plumper bottom of Ruby Blanche, now brazenly bare, which was his lot to deal with. Miss Curzon leaned forward and seemed to brush a fleck of cotton from Jazzy's smaller buttocks on which she was now to concentrate her attentions. The flesh shivered briefly, and to some of the girls in the audience it looked suspiciously like a grope.
The slender shaft in Doctor Unwin's hand climbed, paused, then flashed with a hiss through the air and struck hard across the American girl's naked buttocks. Ruby Blanche screeched. As if in answer, Miss Curzon's cane rose and fell. With a sharp thwack it cut into Jasmine's pert behind with such force that the stool rocked forward and Jasmine gave a despairing wail.
Thwack. In counterpoint to that cry, the Headmaster's cane sped to its mark, and even as Ruby Blanche warbled and kicked her legs, Jasmine gave a sobbing wail when Miss Curzon slashed her cane hard across the naked cheeks. Two more strokes followed from each punisher, firm and accurate, hurtling through the air with a hiss and a thwack to connect at full speed with its target. Perhaps, in all St. Hilda's venerable history, there had never been so thorough and severe a public caning as this one.
There were two more strokes to come. Savouring the moment, the Headmaster paused for several seconds. Not a sound could be heard in the hall except for the sobbing and whimpering from Jasmine Fenwick, and the laboured tearful gasps of Ruby Blanche. The waiting was an additional torment to them both.
Then the Head lifted his cane once more and whipped in to collide with Ruby Blanche's burning buttocks and spring away, imprinting another scarlet track. Miss Curzon followed suit, sweeping up her cane and thrashing it down on Jazzy's bare, roasting behind. This time the girl really screamed, convulsed now with crying.
"The final stroke of the final caning at St. Hilda's will now be delivered," Doctor Unwin intoned, his broad chest rising and falling. The excited whispers and rustles in the hall were stilled by teachers.
Up rose the Headmaster's arm while Miss Curzon tensed, ready to raise hers.
Thwack! Firmly and precisely, the Headmaster's cane soared through the air and sank into Ruby Blanche's buttocks for a last ferocious time, lower and harder than any stroke yet delivered. Her stool rocked forward with the force of it. The American girl gave a howl of anguish and finally broke down, sobbing hysterically, slumped lewdly over the stool as she jerked and writhed in an abandonment of pain, heedlessly exposing her secret places to everyone.
Moments later, Miss Curzon delivered her final stroke. The cane seemed to float through the air with an accelerating whoosh to slam into Jasmine's luridly streaked bottom at full strength. The sound, as it connected, was not very loud, but the pain it imparted was like a streak of flame. The girl let out a kind of mournful sigh, as if she could not be hurt any more, then she too slumped over her stool like a rag doll, legs apart, unconsciously displaying her private parts as her tummy squirmed and jerked against the cushion.
It was over. The very last caning in St. Hilda's centuries old history. As both profoundly punished girls continued to lie across the stools, crying piteously, Miss Curzon eased their knickers up and helped then to their feet. Then she led them, limping and sobbing, from the stage.
The hall was quickly cleared. It was Sunday so there were no lessons, but for hours afterwards a strange tension, a quality of breathlessness, hung over the school like a pall. Tomorrow it would be June, and such a sight as pupils and staff had just witnessed would never again be legally possible.
But that wasn't quite the end of it. Three evenings later, Adele Dixon was doing an intensive work-out in the gym on the low beam in readiness for the Schools Championships. She wore brief white shorts and a sleeveless T shirt on her supple young body and her flame-red hair was held back with a green bandana. No one else was about when two senior girls walked in, wearing blouses and jeans. They were Jasmine Fenwick and Ruby Blanche Cridland. They still walked rather stiffly but the American girl carried a cane.
"Tell on us, would you?" she snarled. "We're gonna make sure you put on a real fine display at those gymnastics of yours. Grab the bitch, Jazzy."
Jasmine didn't say a word but just grabbed Adele and held her tightly while Ruby helped her friend to force Adele across the beam on which she'd been exercising. It was at a height so that her hands and feet just touched the floor on either side. At the topmost apex of her struggling body, her bottom in its flimsy shorts was tight and high.
"Hit the bitch like we were hit, Jaz, c'mon!" yelled Ruby Blanche, dropping the cane to hold the struggling gymnast, who yelled in protest as Jasmine tugged off one of her trainers and proceeded to slam savagely at Adele's upturned bottom.
"Bare her ass, for Chrissake! Make her show it all, like we did! Use the cane!"
Jasmine tugged at the gymnast's shorts, ripping the seams so they tore away to expose her naked, wriggling buttocks. Adele's pleas fell on deaf ears as Jasmine snatched up the cane, measured her distance and let fly. The strokes were hard and pretty accurate, although a few did hit the back of Adele's thighs. Again and again the cane slashed across the gymnast's wriggling bottom, making lurid streaks. In the intensity of those minutes during which Adele was beaten, all track was lost as to how many strokes were delivered. It could have been as many as forty.
"And that's what happens to tattle-tales, legal or not!" snapped Ruby Blanche when Jasmine finally stopped, exhausted. Then they walked from the gym and left the weeping Adele still draped over the beam.
And how do I know all this? Because my name is Adele Dixon. No, it wasn't me who told on them. Someone else must have spotted those paint-stained clothes and gone to the Head. I got into the gymnastics team and went on the world tour but for weeks afterwards when I performed in my leotard those cane-streaks showed on the backs of my thighs and the bare parts of my bottom a gymnast can't help displaying.
As I said, that amazing time still haunts me. It always will.
7 hours ago