Complete this sentence: "S/he couldn't believe..."
Friday's Scream Queen
4 hours ago
Breakfast the next morning was a strangely silent affair. By unspoken consent, neither partner referred to the night before. The only reference made was when the time came to kiss goodbye, as they got into their respective cars to go to work.What now? Was this a trick of Tony's to frighten her into remembering to lock her car? (No remote control, then, to lock it from within the safety of her flat.) Will Ruth be tutoring Robin whether she likes it or not?We shall find out next week.
"Try and keep that bottom of yours out of trouble today, won't you." Tony smiled at her as he held her car door open. "I'll have to think about how to make an honest woman of you if you keep flashing it off to all and sundry." Before Ruth could think of a suitable response, he had wheeled about and got into his own car.
Tony's comment stayed with Ruth for most of the day. She kept returning to it, wondering if he had really meant to use the phrase he had, wondering if he put the same connotation on it that she did. Living with Tony, which was more or less what she did, was one thing. Marriage was most decidedly another and Ruth was not at all certain she was yet ready to consider it.
Midway through the day, Coral Browne came looking for Ruth again. She was very apologetic and clearly still very embarrassed over what she had overheard the previous day.
"I'm ever so sorry, Ruth," she began, hesitantly. "It does seem that every time Miss Greeves sends me to find you I bring bad news, but I had no idea she was going to do that to you." Ruth blushed, but she could hardly avoid forever the incident that had taken place.
"I probably deserved it." She smiled, trying to reassure Coral, who was obviously almost as unsure of Ruth's motivations as she was of Miss Greeves's.
"You'd better take that as a warning and not do anything to upset Lillian in the near future," Ruth continued. "Otherwise it might be your bottom that suffers next."
"Oh, Ruth, I should die of humiliation! I know I wouldn't be as brave as you and, if my dad ever found out that I'd been beaten on my...on my...well, it would just be the end!"
Ruth knew that Coral still lived with her widowed father.
"Well if the worst did happen, there's no reason why he should find out, unless you tell him. And another thing - what's worse, an embarrassing beating on your bum or losing your job? I suspect he wouldn't be at all pleased if you were out of work. He'd be much more likely to find out that you'd been fired. So you'll just have to behave yourself and take more care, won't you."
Coral did not look very convinced. "I suppose so, but I still think you were very brave. I never thought one of the staff could ever..."
"Which goes to show how little you know." Ruth interrupted. She was tiring of this conversation and certainly did not want to be constantly reminded that she'd been bent over a desk with her panties down like a naughty little girl. "Now what is it, Coral? I am rather busy right now."
"Oh yes, I'm sorry, Ruth. I almost forgot what I had to fetch you for. Miss Greeves says; could you come to her office right now. She has Robin Henderson's father with her and she wants you to meet him."
"Sir Harold Henderson? What does he want and what has it got to do with me?" Ruth's heart sank. She despaired of ever struggling free of the unfortunate incident with her two pupils. It was beginning to hang around her neck like a stone, threatening to blight her career for the foreseeable future. She could only guess that Sir Harold was not fully satisfied with the explanation Miss Greeves had given him, and wanted to make more of it. Suppose he insisted on taking legal action? Her mind began to race. It would mean the end of her career, that was certain, and she was not rich enough to defend a legal action. She could be left without a job and with her savings drained away as well. These, and every other permutation of unpleasant possibilities, went through her mind in the brief time it took for Ruth to make her way to Miss Greeves's office.
Entering the outer office, she heard the sound of voices from the inner sanctum. Bracing herself to face the worst, she knocked on the door and waited. Lillian Greeves herself opened the door.
"Come in, Ruth. I'm glad you were able to spare the time to come and meet Sir Harold."
As if I had a choice, thought Ruth as Lillian stood to one side, beckoning Ruth to enter the room and, at the same time, making a sweeping gesture in the direction of the man who had risen from the self-same chair that Ruth had occupied the previous day. Ruth was taken aback. Lillian's attitude was friendly and Sir Harold Henderson also looked relaxed enough, certainly not like an irate parent about to start a legal action.
"My dear Miss Jamison, such a pleasure to meet you," he boomed, extending a hand the size of a dinner plate. Sir Harold Henderson was instantly recognisable as the father of his son. Like his offspring, he was well over six feet tall, and shared the robust bone structure that gave his son such an attractive, athletic build. Sir Harold was probably in his late forties or early fifties, Ruth judged, and his figure was just beginning to spread. By no means fat, he was carrying just a stone or so more than he would have done in his prime. His son's tan and his carefully coiffed hair were translated into a ruddy complexion, perhaps betraying high blood pressure, and a mane of grey, almost white, hair. He was dressed in a perfectly cut, traditionally styled, lounge suit, which had clearly cost a great deal of money. The rest of his ensemble from his immaculate cream shirt to his highly polished brogues, oozed both high quality and high cost. Altogether, he was an imposing figure, and his hand was dry and warm, with a firm, but not crushing, grip.
Ruth mistrusted men who tried to impress her by squashing her fingers with a handshake as much as she did men with slimy hands. She guessed that Sir Harold felt that he had nothing to prove to the world; he had made good, and presumed that the people with whom he came into contact would also know it, thus he had no need for a false handshake. Perversely, Ruth found herself disliking the man for his overt self-confidence.
"Please sit down, Ruth." Miss Greeves was obviously a little overwhelmed by this larger-than-life figure, and wanted Ruth to sit to encourage Sir Harold to resume his seat and thus not dominate the office quite so effectively.
"Sir Harold and I have been discussing Robin's future," she began. "You know, of course, that he has only one more term left before his final exams, and Sir Harold is concerned that his son's relationship with Nicky Shaw may be prejudicing his chances of success."
Before Ruth could answer, Sir Harold held up his hand, stopping her sentence before it could begin. "I should like to say, before you comment, Miss Jamieson, just how much I appreciate your attempt to put my son on the straight and narrow."
Ruth's jaw dropped in amazement. Could she be hearing correctly? Wasn't this the same man who had complained about the punishment his son had received, and been instrumental in getting Ruth sent to Damocles Priory? An experience about which she still had mixed feelings. Sensing Ruth's bewilderment, he laughed loudly, a discordant braying sound.
"Yes, I know, I did complain about the punishment Robin received when you caught him and that piece of skirt in flagrante, so to speak. But I have since come to realise I was a mite hasty. He deserved what he got, and she most certainly did. I understand from Miss Greeves that everyone concerned, including your good self, may be said to have learned a lesson from that unfortunate affair." He brayed again. "But that is all behind us now, don't you think, Miss Jamieson?"
Ruth tried not to show her feelings but her face felt a little flushed. Her impression of this man was rapidly turning sour. Did she imagine the emphasis on the word 'behind' or was he trying to convey some acquired knowledge of what had transpired? She wondered what Lillian had told him. She trusted Lillian not to betray a confidence but who knows how much this powerful man had bullied out of her, and how much had he guessed? It was clear too, by his contemptuous references to Nicky, that he blamed her for the circumstances which had led to his son's punishment.
"I am certainly glad that you have changed your mind about what happened, Sir Harold," she replied, rather stiffly. "Although I do think you are being a little harsh in your judgment of Nicky Shaw. She is a very well brought-up young lady, and she and Robin actually make quite a good match. It's just that school is not the right place for their relationship to become too serious-"
Sir Harold made a noise in his throat, a cross between a cough and a growl. Ruth got the impression that arguing with his opinion was not going to get her any brownie points.
"That's as may be, "he said sharply, "But I want the boy to do well in his exams without that kind of distraction. That's what I'm here for. I've talked it over with Miss Greeves and it's her recommendation. I must say that, having met you, I agree. I like a young lady with spirit, and I can see you fit the bill."
"Excuse me? I am a little lost. Fit what bill?" Ruth said, bewildered.
"Sir Harold would like a member of staff to provide private tuition for Robin, during the coming break," Lillian Greeves explained. "I said that you might be interested in accepting the commission. Sir Harold is prepared to be most generous," she added, beaming at Ruth.
"Oh, I don't know." Ruth was tempted, to be sure. She earned a good salary from her job, but the prospect of well-paid holiday work would not come amiss, in normal circumstances. But these were not normal circumstances!
"I really don't know." She was hesitant but decided that the warning voice in her head was right. "No, I don't think so, Sir Harold. Thank you for the offer but I really do feel I need my break. Things have been very hectic over the last few weeks, and I really feel I need a break from teaching for a while."
"Hmm. I was afraid you would say that. I know a little about how hectic your life has been, so I suppose I can't blame you."
Ruth immediately wondered again what Lillian Greeves had told this man.
"I hope you don't regret your decision, Miss Jamieson. If you think you have made a mistake when you leave the office, you can contact me here." and he held out a business card.
Ruth noted with some surprise that the address was very close to Damocles Priory. Misinterpreting her raised eyebrow, he explained tersely, "My summer residence. Always go there at this time of year. If you should change your mind, that's where I should want you to tutor Robin. Live in, of course - private apartment for the duration. You'd be very comfortable. I'd see to that personally, and the salary would be more than adequate. I can be very generous."
I'll bet you can, thought Ruth grimly, but you are also a bully, and I don't think I'd enjoy working for you, not one little bit.
"It sounds delightful, Sir Harold, but as I've said, I have other plans. If there's nothing else, I have a class to take. May I go now?"
This latter was addressed to Lillian Greeves, who indicated with an air of some irritation that the interview was over.
* * *
Ruth wondered for the rest of the day whether she had really done the right thing, but went home happy, convinced that she had. As usual, she abandoned her car in the drive of her little house and went straight in, not thinking to lock it. It was only several hours later, just as the light was fading that she remembered. Quickly she grabbed her keys. I'm damned if I'm getting another spanking tonight, she thought. It's about time we had some good, old fashioned straight sex. Tony is getting just too fond of whacking my bottom!
She opened her front door and looked out. The shadows, from the big trees in the park which bordered her property, blotted out what little daylight remained. It didn't occur to her that her car was actually parked in just about the darkest area and was invisible from the road. She walked over to the driver's side and bent down to insert the key in the lock.
Suddenly a strong pair of arms encircled her from behind. Whoever it was must have been very light on their feet, for she had not heard a footfall as her assailant approached. The realisation that she was in deep trouble came to her just as an evil-smelling pad of cotton was placed over her nose. Frantically, she kicked out, one shoe flying off, but the other making a satisfying thud as it connected with the shins of the person holding on to her.
The grip around her waist slackened momentarily but it was too late - Ruth's world was already spinning away into unconsciousness as her struggles weakened. The last thing that passed through her mind before she blacked out was a sense of outrage that this should be happening to her, and, stupidly, that Tony would not get his dinner on time.
Ruth emerged into the outer office, from Miss Greeves's private study, to be met by Coral's astonished gaze. She could hardly blame the secretary for being wide-eyed and embarrassed, she thought. Not only was Ruth more than a little red in the face, but the door to the study was not exactly soundproofed. Even though Ruth had managed to keep her teeth tightly clenched throughout, there could have been no mistaking the sound of the crisp smacks, spaced at precisely fifteen- second intervals, for anything other than what they were. Since Ruth had been the only person in the room apart from Miss Greeves herself, it followed that Coral must have realised that Ruth had taken six of the very best, and across her bare bottom.There. It wasn't so difficult to tell him after all.
Ruth herself was certainly in no doubt. It was with the greatest difficulty that she resisted the temptation to massage her smarting rear. Miss Greeves kept herself in commendable trim and, despite her age, there was nothing wrong with the strength of her right arm. Nor was there any doubt that the tawse, now safely back in Ruth's briefcase, was fully functional and not just a souvenir.
Miss Greeves had swept all her papers to one side of the desk and indicated that Ruth should bend over and hold on to the far edge. Ruth was becoming so inured to having her bottom smacked that she hardly raised a murmur of protest. She had, however, looked over her shoulder in some alarm, ready to appeal, when her panties were pulled down. Then she remembered exactly how Nicky Shaw had protested when Ruth herself had been in control, and how the protest had fallen on deaf ears. She had turned her head back to face the front, accepting that she must take what was due, and awaited while Miss Greeves took up her position.
"You were right." Ruth managed a watery smile at the open-mouthed Coral. "She HAS changed a bit while I was away."
"Ruth, surely she didn't...I mean...I couldn't help hearing...At least, I thought I heard..."
"You did hear correctly and yes she did. But I don't want to talk about it now, OK? Maybe later." Ruth was in no mood for conversation and she desperately needed to be somewhere private, somewhere she could cool down and inspect the damage.
A few moments later, safely locked in the ladies wash-room, she ruefully craned her neck round to inspect herself in the mirror. As she expected, the three fingers of the tawse had left her bottom a rich crimson, with darker lines where the fingers separated and pinched the flesh up into little ridges. At least now the slate was completely clean. She trusted Lillian Greeves to keep her word and not refer to the matter again, just as she was equally sure that Lillian would keep her other promise - to apply the senior cane to Ruth's bare bottom if ever she thought the young teacher's performance needed correcting again.
She realised, ruefully, that she had left her little jar of Moon Balm at home. She had never, in her wildest dreams, imagined she would ever need that little jar at work! Taking her last class of the day was going to be rather uncomfortable, not to mention the drive home.
As she considered the prospect, her fingers strayed downward. Ruth looked around guiltily, although she knew that she was quite alone. Checking that the lock on the door was secure, she returned to the mirror, bending over in front of it to get a better view of her lower curves. Placing her splayed fingers flat across her stomach, she relished the sensation as they slid down towards the dark shadow of her groin. She closed her eyes and grinned. What kind of thrashing would I get from Lillian if she caught me doing this on school property, she thought. Now that would mean a damn good caning and no mistake! It had not occurred to her that this time there was no excuse of Moon Balm acting as a sexual stimulus, there was just the heat of the tawse pulsing through her bottom which was driving her desires.
Ruth knew that the next embarrassing meeting she would have to face was with Tony. She kept telling herself she had nothing to feel guilty about. After all, she had merely been sent on a training course in connection with her work, something which had happened to her many times before and which Tony also had to do from time to time. Nothing had happened; she had not cheated on him and, in any case, their arrangement, although of quite long standing, had nothing cut and dried about it. They were both free agents, despite Tony's semi permanent residence in her house. There was no contractual obligation.
In that case, said the little voice at the back of her mind which kept prodding away, why do you keep trying to justify yourself? Ask yourself, my girl, what would you say if Tony came home and told you he had spent the last two days giving bare-arsed spankings to a group of pretty girls? This conversation with her inner self continued throughout the journey home. The warmth and tenderness in her rear, which the well-worn springing of her car seat did nothing to reduce, combined with the kaleidoscope of erotic images which flashed across her vision, did not improve Ruth's road-safety awareness one iota.
She arrived home, and abandoned her car in the drive in her usual fashion, then opened the front door to find the little red light of her answering machine winking at her. Pressing the replay button as she kicked the door closed behind her, she listened to Tony's voice, distorted by the scratchy tape. "Hi sweetie! I'm afraid I'm going to be late again tonight, so go ahead and eat without me. In fact I may be really late so don't wait up. But I will definitely be there sometime. Love you! Bye!"
She was annoyed and deflated. Damn, I wanted to talk him through this situation slowly. Instead of which he's going to be so late there will be no time for talk. Just his body next to hers in bed. Slam! Bam! Thank you, Ruth! ....and goodnight.
There was nothing else for it but to swallow her disappointment and dine alone. As she changed out of her working clothes into something more casual, she took time out for another inspection of her posterior in the mirror. The backs of her legs still carried a faint tracery of scratches from the birch twigs, although the Moon Balm had made the healing process far quicker than she would have imagined possible. Higher up, the full globes of her buttocks were still as crimson as they had been when she checked in the school rest-room. The smarting which had troubled her for most of the afternoon was abating somewhat, but she was still very aware that she had received a darn good strapping! Looking longingly at the small glass jar which she had placed on her dressing table, Ruth made a deliberate decision not to use the balm. For one thing, there wasn't all that much left and , for another, now that the worst of the sting had gone, the residual feeling of warmth in her bottom really wasn't that unpleasant.
Several hours later, after a lonely evening watching nothing in particular on TV, Ruth decided it was time for bed, Tony or no Tony. She undressed and went to the bathroom then returned and pondered over her night attire. It was a little chilly and she was alone so she eventually eschewed various flighty creations in favour of an old favourite, a pair of men's striped pyjamas. If he's going to leave me in bed on my own at least I'll be as warm as I can be, she thought.
After reading in bed for half an hour, Ruth put out the light, but found it difficult to drop off to sleep. As her thoughts drifted between the conscious and the unconscious , so the warmth in her bottom became more intrusive, and the meanderings of her mind more and more erotic. She had just rolled over onto her stomach and was cushioning her head in her arms in an effort to find a comfortable spot when she heard Tony's car in the drive. At least she thought it was Tony, although she distinctly heard two doors slam. A moment or two later, she heard his key in the lock then his footsteps in the hallway, so she put her head down again and tried to relax, though sleep was now impossible, at least until Tony came to join her. She waited expectantly as he came up the stairs and went to the bathroom. Then he was at the doorway.
"Ruth," he whispered softly, "are you still awake?"
"Well, even if I wasn't, I am now," she replied, feigning irritation.
"Good." The duvet was suddenly whipped away from her. "Because I would hate to spank a sleeping beauty." His hand whacked down onto her upturned and sensitive posterior and even the material of the pyjamas did not lessen the sting very much.
"Oh Owwwww! What was that for? You beast!" She was angry now and rolled quickly across to the other side of the bed.
"How many times do I have to remind you about locking your car at night?" Tony sounded pretty cross and Ruth remembered that she had come straight into the house, scatter-brain fashion, and had completely forgotten to lock her car. So that's what the second car door was! He's been checking up on me! Tony had put the light on , and was advancing round the bed towards her.
"No, please, let me explain," she cried, backing away from him, her heart pounding.
"Nothing to explain. It wasn't locked....again...and you've had your last warning!"
"No, Tony, not tonight please. Not a spanking. I've had a bad day. You wouldn't believe...oh no please!" The last word was dragged out in a plaintive squeal as he caught hold of her arm and pulled her towards him. Ruth put up the best fight she could,but the pyjamas made it easy for Tony to maintain a hold, even though the buttons of the jacket popped open in a rapid sequence, making Ruth grab frantically to pull it round her. It was all over in a few seconds and Ruth was forced to concede defeat as she was pulled firmly across his lap. This is becoming a habit, the little voice in her head told her, and what's more - as she felt her pyjama bottoms being yanked down - you are getting to like it! Ruth studied the pattern on the carpet, making a performance for Tony's benefit, kicking her legs to rid them of the encumbering pyjamas, and squealing, giggling and pleading for mercy in mock terror.
Tony trapped her flailing legs in his, and planted one hand firmly on her back, holding her in position, bottom up, for what she expected was going to be a very rapid warming. When the expected slap did not fall, she tried to wriggle around to see what he was doing, but could only see his raised hand, in the classic open-palmed position, ready to strike.
"What's the matter? You've seen my bottom before. If you're going to spank me, for God's sake get on with it. A girl could catch her death of cold stuck like this, you know!"
"I may have seen your bottom many times before," Tony said deliberately, "but it was never this colour. What on earth have you been up to......and with whom?"
"Oh hell, Tony, it's an awfully long story. Look if you're not going to spank me, now you've got me in this position, at least do something useful. There is a jar of ointment on the bedside table, do me a favour and rub some of it in to my bum. Please? All over the red bits."
"It had better be a very good story, " Tony growled angrily as he reached for the jar. "It seems to me that you have been putting yourself about a bit, my girl, and if you haven't got a really convincing excuse for why your bottom is in this condition, it'll be more than just a bit red by the time I finish with it!"
His hand, loaded with Moon Balm, came down on the centre of her left cheek with a slap which made her yelp, just to emphasise the point. "Come on, start talking!" He began to massage her bottom, in a none too gentle rotary motion. Ruth began to recount the tale of her activities, leaving nothing out, and going right back to her first encounter with Nicky Shaw and Robin Henderson in the school shower rooms.
It was a long story, and took a lot of massaging. With Tony's ministrations, Ruth's bottom and thighs became slippery. With the slipperiness, Tony's hands naturally tended to stray and, as the balm took effect, soothing her various aches and pains, Ruth started to relax and make things a little easier. Eventually Tony let Ruth up from her undignified position over his knee. He had already stripped down to his boxer shorts and Ruth made short work of removing them. To even things up, he slipped the pyjama jacket off her shoulders, and gripped it tightly as it reached her elbows, so that her arms were pinioned tightly behind her.
Ruth felt her head swimming as he nibbled at her breasts, his teeth nipping and teasing gently, the tip of his tongue circling, tickling, tantalising, as the dark peaks of each nipple hardened and rose in turn. When she could stand it no longer, she slipped her arms out of the flapping jacket and grabbed him around the waist with both hands.
It was Tony's turn to throw his head back and gasp for breath as she ran her tongue down his chest, then lower across his stomach, the dark hairs of his body tickling her nostrils as she descended, until finally she was kissing the tip of his erect cock, ready to open her mouth and take it fully inside. The taste of it was salty on her tongue, his scent musky on her nostrils. She let out a small cry of disappointment that this new experience was denied her, as she was lifted up and flung hard down on the bed. Then he was on her, his weight crushing the breath out of her.
Ruth splayed her legs wide to receive him, and screamed softly as the invitation was accepted. Then her thighs were clamped to his ribcage, her ankles locked together behind him, and the bed creaked as the two bodies rose and fell as one, his gasps for breath mingling with her groans as his stiff shaft drove ever more deeply inside her.
Shortly after the final lesson, the course broke up and the participants went their separate ways. Vicky and Amanda went first, leaving together in Amanda's car, rather pointedly leaving Ruth to phone for a taxi to take her to the station. Ruth was in no hurry and took her time packing, although, as she had deliberately travelled light in the first place, there was very little to do. She carefully wrapped the tawse she had won in some spare underwear and placed it at the bottom of her case, wondering as she did so just what use the shiny leather would be put to when next unpacked. Picking up the remains of the jar of Moon Balm which sat on the bedside table, she decided that she might as well take that too, although strictly speaking it belonged to the Priory. Checking that the top was on securely, she added it to her belongings in the case. Her packing completed, she closed the case and went downstairs to phone for the taxi.I suspect the large, cluttered desk will be put to good use, but I may be mistaken. We will have to wait a week to find out.
As she stood in the doorway, she heard Stephen coming down the stairs behind her. He was dressed in his full motorcycle leathers which creaked and rustled as he moved. Ruth smiled wickedly to herself, thinking that although he now cut such an imposing figure, she preferred to remember him as she had seen him the previous day, his shorts round his ankles, his big bare bottom stuck up in the air, ready to take the punishment she was about to give. She wondered if he pictured her in the same way.
"Well, I guess this is goodbye," Stephen began awkwardly. "I feel as if I've known you a lot longer than two days. Do you think there's much chance of us meeting again?"
He looked so much like a little boy lost that Ruth did not want to hurt his feelings. But she didn't want to encourage him either. One policeman in her life was enough to be going on with!
"I don't know. Perhaps. I sometimes go to police functions with my boyfriend, Tony Chalmers. Might you happen to know him?"
Stephen looked surprised, as if the idea that Ruth might already have a steady relationship had not occurred to him.
"Why yes, actually I do. I went through basic training with him before he got promotion and we got posted to different areas." He looked crestfallen. "Well, I suppose that's it then. I hope Tony realises what a lucky chap he is. What on earth are you going to tell him about us?"
"What about...us? Is there anything to tell?" Ruth could not resist teasing him, he looked so innocent.
"Well, I mean to say, Ruth, don't you think it might be a bit awkward? Won't you find it a bit embarrassing to tell him about this course anyway - what went on, I mean? If he were to find out what I did to you he might not be too pleased."
"Well, I won't have to tell him too much then, will I? Tony and I don't have secrets from each other, but we're both mature adults. He knows I'm a big girl now, and I make up my own mind."
Ruth tried to give the impression that, being as sophisticated as she was, she would have no difficulty whatsoever in explaining to the man in her life that she had spent much of two days bent virtually naked over a chair, exposing her private entrances to a group of complete strangers and taking part in practices on which it was hard to put a logical, reasonable gloss. In fact, she was wondering desperately just what the devil she was going to tell Tony.
"Oh well, that's all right then if he's that understanding," Stephen replied, with just a hint of irony? She wasn't sure. "Anyway let me give you my phone number, just in case."
Ruth grinned mischievously. "Just in case of...what?" she said, but before he could answer, the taxi crunched up the gravel drive. She took the opportunity to curtail the farewell scene and depart. Her last sight of Stephen was of him standing by his motorcycle, looking wistfully at the back window of the taxi. She gave him a wave as the car turned back onto the main road, and received a half-hearted raise of the hand in return. Settling back in the seat, she looked briefly at the card he had given her; a plain business card, bearing only his name and telephone number. She tucked it into her purse, without giving it a second thought, and began to relax, enjoying the pretty scenery en route. Rather to her surprise, the motorcycle did not overtake the taxi before they reached the station, so she assumed he must have taken an alternative route.
* * *
The next day, Ruth went back to work, and discovered that considerable mental readjustment was required in order to get herself back into her normal routine. At least Tony had been working late, and she had spoken only briefly with him on the phone to let him know she was back. Detailed explanations could wait until the evening which at least gave her a little more time to consider just what she was going to tell him.
The morning was a matter of catching up. Ruth took two classes and also had a lot of paperwork to take care of. Although Lillian Greeves had acknowledged her presence at morning assembly, she made no move to speak to Ruth until after lunch, when Ruth sat working on some papers in the staff room. She looked up as the door opened, to see Coral Browne, the secretary, enter the room.
"Ruth, I'm glad I found you. Miss Greeves would like you to go to her office. Whenever it's convenient, she said."
"Oh, OK, Coral, I can come now if you like. I don't have another class until after the break."
"Yes, that would be best, I think."
Knowing Coral quite well, Ruth sensed that there was something being left unsaid. Something that was troubling the secretary. She decided to probe.
"What is this summons about? Do you know?"
"Well, I think she wants to discuss your course with you. She asked that you bring your closing essay papers and anything else that you were given on the course." Coral was hesitant. "Ruth, tell me to mind my own business if you like, but was there something odd about that course?"
"Odd? How do you mean, odd?" Ruth's mind was racing. Although Coral could not have known, it was obvious that Miss Greeves suspected, no doubt based on her own experience, that Ruth might have acquired a souvenir from Damocles Priory. Why does she want to see my essay, I wonder? Putting the thoughts aside she listened to Coral's cautious answer.
"Well..." Coral looked doubtful, clearly wishing she had never said anything. "It's just that, since Lillian came back from her own course, she has been - well - a bit...strange. You know how lenient she has always been about discipline? Well in the few days you have been away, she has caned three pupils, two boys and a girl, and...' Her voice tailed off and her face crumpled into misery.
"What is it, Coral? You can tell me." Ruth had always looked on the young secretary as a friend, and now she put a comforting arm around the girl's shoulders.
"Yesterday I made a couple of silly mistakes. It was my fault, I know it was, I just wasn't thinking. I gave her a letter that I had typed, and there were some errors in it that I hadn't spotted. Then I put some papers in the wrong file, papers that she wanted in a hurry, and it took me ages to find them."
"OK, but that wasn't so terrible, surely?"
"When she told me off, Ruth, it wasn't like the kind of rocket she used to give. She said I had become terribly slack, and that I was representative of a lot of the behaviour among staff around here, and that it was a bad example for the pupils. She said she was going to change a few things in future. Then she told me I should watch my step - I wasn't so much older than some of the pupils."
"So? That is more or less true, isn't it?" An awful suspicion was forming in Ruth's mind but she was careful to allow Coral to finish her own story.
The girl was now clearly embarrassed. "She said that, if I didn't take more care, and I wanted to keep my job, " she hesitated, her face red, "that she would take the cane to my bottom, the same as the pupils when they step out of line."
Ruth eyes widened. "Oh, Coral, I'm sure she didn't mean that. She was just having a bad day. We all do that from time to time." Ruth was far from sure her reassurances had any substance but couldn't voice the truth to the worried secretary.
Coral shook her head. "No, you should have heard her, Ruth. I'm sure she meant it. Oh I love my job here. I know I make the odd mistake, but the cane? I couldn't face that."
"Oh stop worrying. I'm sure you won't have to. Especially if you take note of the warning and don't give her an excuse." Ruth smiled encouragingly. "Come on, let's go back to her office together, and I'll see what she wants me for."
She picked up her briefcase, which contained not only her essay from Damocles Priory but the gold-edged tawse, which she had decided to keep with her, rather than leave it around for Tony to find. She still needed some time to prepare her explanation of her possession of it, and of her on-course activities.
* * *
On arriving at Lillian Greeves's office, Ruth made one last attempt to reassure Coral, before knocking on her boss's door. Bidden to enter, she found Miss Greeves sitting behind her desk, which was strewn with all the usual papers and paraphernalia of her work.
"Come in, Ruth, do take a seat." She motioned Ruth to the chair on the other side of her desk. Accepting the invitation, Ruth placed herself in a rather formal, upright posture on the edge of the chair and waited, wondering what was coming.
"How did you find your course? What did you think of the Reverend Mould?"
Ruth thought for a moment before answering. She realised that Miss Greeves must know exactly what went on at Damocles Priory. She had, after all, attended the previous session of the same course. However, Ruth was slightly apprehensive, especially after what Coral had just told her. She wasn't sure how to handle the situation, and what it was safe to say without leading herself into some very deep water.
"It was...interesting," she began, warily. "I suppose I would describe the Reverend Mould as a little eccentric."
"Oh come now, Ruth, he's absolutely barking mad. A real psycho," Miss Greeves interrupted, laughing heartily at Ruth's discomfiture. "But that does not necessarily invalidate all that he says. I expect that you were asked to prepare a final essay as the last part of your course."
"Yes, I was"
"Then I would like to see it, please. I would like to know just what benefit you derived from attending the Priory. It was part of your career development at Educorp-West, after all."
Ruth blushed at this reminder of the reason why she had been sent on this course, and the traumatic interview she had had with Lillian Greeves in this very same office just a week or so previously. So much water had flowed under her particular bridge since then that it was easy to forget that she was still the same person and, as far as Lillian Greeves was concerned, still on probation. She opened her briefcase and handed over the essay, which she had stapled into a neat folder.
Accepting the document, Miss Greeves donned a pair of half-moon reading glasses and began to study the papers. Ruth remained silent and was made to wait for fully ten minutes while the headmistress read the essay from start to finish, then went back to one section and re-read it twice. Finally she put the essay down.
"I have to say I am quite impressed." Ruth's sigh of relief was almost audible. "You obviously spoke from the heart, as well as the head, when you wrote this. Can I assume that your experience of the Reverend's Action Learning technique played some part in this?"
"I suppose you could say that." It was Ruth's turn to smile, wryly, as she recalled the tangled emotions she had suffered, prostrate on her bed, at Damocles Priory, relishing the relief as the Moon Balm took effect before she began to write her essay.
"Which particular action did you, personally, participate in ?"
Ruth smiled at the coyness. "Do you mean which punishment did I actually incur?"
"I mean precisely that. I know that you took a beating of some sort, it is a central part of the Reverend's method. What implement was used on you?"
Ruth coloured up, partly at the memory still fresh in her mind, but partly because this interview was taking a disturbingly personal turn.
"I was birched, first by the Reverend Mould, and then by the only man on the course."
"Ah I see. I do indeed see. That must have made a very strong impression. I must say that I counted myself lucky to have only received the tawse on my course. The young lady who was birched on that occasion was quite severely emotionally distressed and certainly had my sympathy."
So, thought Ruth, I was right. You didn't just go to observe. The knowledge was, somehow, reassuring.
"If the Reverend Mould followed his usual pattern, "Lillian Greeves continued, " he will have given out certain souvenirs at the end of the course. Was this the case, Ruth?"
"Yes, he gave each of us something."
"I trust you have brought it with you. Show it to me, please."
Ruth felt unaccountably nervous as she reached into her briefcase and took out the tawse. Miss Greeves took it from her and placed it on her desk, then reached into her drawer and, to Ruth's surprise, produced a twin of the implement, which she placed alongside Ruth's trophy.
"What a coincidence! It seems that we both write a good essay when...er...appropriately stimulated." Lillian said dryly. She looked at Ruth sternly.
"Now to business. You will remember, I am sure, Ruth, that when I made the proposition to you that you should attend Damocles Priory, I attached certain conditions."
Here it comes, thought a worried Ruth. The sting in the tail.
"While you were away, I decided to put my own lessons into practice. I have begun a new regime of discipline at this school and, for one thing, I want to ensure that the kind of incident like the one involving you and the departed Mr. Fullerton is never repeated!"
Miss Greeves now had Ruth's undivided attention.
"I have decided, therefore, that the more junior members of my staff are as much in need of discipline as are some of the pupils. Your own rash behaviour demonstrated that, but I am delighted to say that your performance at Damocles Priory has at least been a partial atonement."
Partial atonement? Ruth's nerves were jangling.
"You may recall that I said you had committed two offences. One against the company; the other against me, which I chose to take extremely personally."
Ruth nodded, her eyes downcast, ashamed to have the subject raised again and fearful of where this was leading.
"Well, you have done well in making up for your sin against the company. You now have to decide if you wish to continue working for me."
"Oh yes, I do. I enjoy my job and my working relationship with you!" Ruth's outburst was desperate and spontaneous. All her old fears about losing her job were back again. Surely Miss Greeves would not go back on her word, not after what Ruth had gone through in the last week?
"I, similarly, enjoy our working relationship, Ruth, and I want nothing more but that it should continue. But there is a price to be paid, a fee to wipe the slate clean if you like. After your recent experience of Action Learning I think you know what it is!"
She looked at Ruth sternly, the direct eye contact making the young teacher feel like an errant child.
Slowly, Ruth stood up. She picked up her own souvenir tawse from the desk and handed it to her superior. Already she was unconsciously pulling up her dress.
"How do you want me?" she asked, softly.