As she made her way to work that morning, Ruth felt as if she was floating on air. She was ultra-cautious in the way she drove. Although her car was equipped with perfectly reasonable suspension and seats, even those wonders of modern technology were ineffective at preventing the sharp reminders of the previous night's activities every time she shifted her position.Oh, this is going to be a really good adventure for Ruth.
There were three distinct aches, she decided, Firstly, the dull throbbing which seemed to be rooted deep in the muscles of her buttocks. She had needed to check several times in the mirror before leaving the bedroom to reassure herself that her bottom was not swollen to three times its normal size. It certainly felt that way.
Secondly, there was the sharper, more acute discomfort down the backs of her legs. The long cushion of the car seat, specifically designed to support her thighs in normal motoring, served only to chafe the tender area each time she operated the pedals.
It was while she had been craning round to inspect her rear view in the bedroom mirror that Ruth realised that the visible evidence of her chastisement extended below the hemline of the short summer-weight skirt she had chosen. Tony had promised her a thorough tanning and he had been as good as his word. The scarlet prints of his hands were visible on the backs of both legs, down to about four inches above the knees. Ruefully, she had discarded her first choice and put on a businesslike grey skirt, tailored to a snug fit, which covered the marks and could be relied upon not to ride up or flap revealingly should there be an unexpected gust of wind.
Turning in to the school gates, Ruth blushed as she analysed her third, and most intimate, ache. She and Tony had been together for almost two years, and their lovemaking had always been exciting, but she had never known his libido to be as powerful, or as sustained, as his performance after he had spanked her.
Another session like last night's and you'll need to book into a convent for a rest, my girl, she told herself with a self satisfied little grin.
Not even a further encounter with Edward Fullerton at a staff meeting could dent Ruth's good humour. She simply sat at the back of the room, barely listening as the pompous oaf prattled on, enjoying the dull throbbing in her rear, which was made worse by the hard school chair.
She felt a huge sense of relief that she had taken the decision to explore a side of her nature which had been suppressed for so long. It was only with hindsight that she began to realise just how long it was that she had ached for Tony to become more than just a partner. At first she had not even recognised what it was that made her feel so frustrated. Then, more recently, as the longings had taken shape, she had been too embarrassed, or even frightened, to share her feelings. It was only the adrenaline overload from the unsought involvement in Nicky Shaw's caning that had given her the courage to open Pandora's box. Now the relief was incredible.
Thinking of Nicky Shaw, Ruth felt a pang of guilt. Her favourite pupil had been very subdued in class that morning, but had somehow found the courage to approach Ruth at the end of the first lesson.
"Please, Miss," she had begun, somewhat haltingly, clearly struggling for words.
"I've come to apologise for yesterday." Ruth looked at her pupil in astonishment. Feeling as she did, she thought that perhaps it was the teacher who should apologise to the pupil, although to do so would be an unthinkable loss of authority.
"That's very good of you, Nicky, and I appreciate it."
"My dad was very cross with me when he found out what I'd done and he said that, if you and Mr. Fullerton hadn't done such a good job in striping my bottom, he'd have done it himself."
"I see. Well there's not much I can add to that, is there, Nicky?"
"No Miss." Then the girl had broken down and started to cry. "I know I deserved it, Miss, but it hurt so much!"
Ruth's heart lurched. She could hardly admit that she knew how Nicky felt, no matter how great the temptation. Instead she gave her favourite pupil a warm hug and patted the sobbing girl's bottom softly.
"There, there, Nicky. I know it hurts. It was meant to and if it's taught you a lesson that you'll remember, it will be a small price to pay. You will recognise that later, perhaps, although I know it seems hard now. But it's over and done with now. Can we be friends again?" It was as far as Ruth dare go without endangering her professional standing. To her relief, Nicky managed to stop crying and nodded shamefacedly.
This minor success in repairing fences had buoyed Ruth's spirits even more and carried her through the rest of the day.
It was not to last.
* * *
The following morning the bottom dropped out of her world.
She was in the staff room, taking a mid morning break and gathering her thoughts before the next lesson when Coral Browne came into the room.
"Ruth, could you come to Miss Greeves's office, please? At once."
"What is it about, Coral? I have a class in five minutes."
"Yes I know. Miss Greeves said I was to sit in with them and keep order while you are in her office. It's important, she said."
"But don't you know what it's about?" Ruth was puzzled. Lillian Greeves was normally very considerate to her staff and this peremptory summons was quite out of character.
"I'm not in a position to say, Ruth. I'm sorry, but I think you should see Miss Greeves directly." Coral looked very embarrassed.
There was no point in pressing the matter further , so Ruth made her way to the Headmistress's office. As she entered the outer office, normally occupied by Coral Browne, Edward Fullerton emerged from Miss Greeves's room and pushed rudely past Ruth without saying a word. He went straight to his own room next door and slammed the door violently. Although she was quite used to Fullerton's rudeness, Ruth noted that his ire was not particularly directed at her on this occasion. The man was clearly angry and distracted, and his face had a pallor even worse than usual.
Curiouser and curiouser, she thought, as she headed for Lillian Greeves's door.
She knocked and was bidden to enter. She went in, to be confronted by Lillian Greeves sitting behind her desk, her normally friendly expression now distinctly frosty.
"I have called you in, Ruth, over the incident which occurred while I was away the other day."
"You mean when Robin Henderson and Nicky Shaw were punished?"
"Precisely. I have already heard Mr. Fullerton's side of the story, and I have also heard from both sets of parents. Now I want your version of events." Ruth immediately felt very uneasy for, clearly, whatever Miss Greeves had heard was not to her liking.
Sticking to the bare facts, she related exactly what had happened, finishing with the admission that she thought things had got a little out of hand. She was careful not to apportion any blame to Edward Fullerton.
When she had finished her story, Ruth stood facing the Headmistress, her hands behind her back, feeling every bit as humble as the most junior pupil called to account after a misdemeanour. Lillian Greeves let the silence run for what seemed like an eternity as she considered Ruth's explanation.
"I may as well tell you that I am not at all happy, Ruth," she began. "I received a complaint from Sir Harold Henderson, Robin's father, that the boy had been excessively punished and, when I followed this up with Nicky Shaw's father, although he made no complaint, it was clear to me that Nicky had also been punished more severely than was appropriate. Indeed, I was surprised that her father accepted the situation as he did. I would have thought a complaint from him even more warranted than the one from Sir Harold."
Ruth shuffled uncomfortably. This was the first time in her career that she had received anything that amounted to a reprimand from Lillian Greeves, whom she greatly respected, and it did not help to know that the reprimand was well deserved.
"I have discussed this with Mr. Fullerton, and made my feelings plain. There are two aspects to this affair which disturb me; the pair of you exceeded the authority which Educorp-West allows staff at your respective levels and, worse, you abused my trust. I am particularly disappointed in you, Ruth. I had you marked out for higher things, but I am afraid that, when the regional governing board hears my report, they cannot fail to mark your record, which will destroy your prospects of ever gaining promotion within the company."
Ruth was shattered. She had had no idea that Lillian would take the matter so seriously, and to lose her career would mean the end of everything she had hoped for and worked so hard for.
"I may add, " Lillian Greeves continued sternly, "that Mr. Fullerton has already considered his position, decided it is untenable, and has decided to resign with immediate effect."
The words hit Ruth like a thunderbolt. Resign? The tears pricked at the back of her eyes and she could think of nothing to say except to plead for her job. "I'm so sorry, Miss Greeves. Do you have to report this? I don't want to be forced to resign. I love my job and I'll do anything to keep it. Is there nothing I can do to show how sorry I am?"
"I agree it would be a pity to terminate a promising career so early, but I have very little latitude. My first duty is to the company, you must realise."
"Oh, please, please. I'll do anything. Please don't force me to leave."
"Will you indeed! I wonder."
Ruth stared at her boss through a haze of tears. Did she detect a slight softening of attitude? Again the almost unbearable silence while Lillian Greeves thought things through. At last she said;
"I will make you a proposition. As I have said, there are two offences here. One against the company, and one against me, which I choose to take very personally, since I have so far encouraged you at every stage of your career." Ruth felt her ego shrivel, but pride was a small price if it meant keeping her job.
"As you may know, I have just returned from a short course. It was most instructive. Held at a place called Damocles Priory, up on the edge of Exmoor, and run by a gentleman called the Reverend Mould. I went as an observer because Educorp-West is considering making attendance at this course compulsory for candidates for further promotion above your present grade. That will certainly be my recommendation to the board, now that I have witnessed, and indeed participated in, the course."
Ruth was by now bewildered. What could this have to do with her? She had already been told that she had no promotion prospects; she wasn't even sure she had a job!
"The course deals with the correct administration of corporal punishment and the responsibilities that go with it, a subject on which the Reverend Mould is something of an expert. The good Reverend has some very unusual, but none the less sound, ideas and methods. Amongst other things, he believes in a technique called Action Learning. I think it is entirely appropriate that you should attend this course, Ruth."
To say that she was flabbergasted was an understatement. Ruth's mouth dropped. "I-I don't understand," she stammered. "Why do you want me to go on a course if I have no prospects?"
"I said I would make you a proposition," Lillian Greeves smiled wanly. "You are still very much on probation as far as I am concerned. If you attend this course and make a success of it, and demonstrate to me by your enthusiasm that you are worthy, then I will not make a report of your involvement in this caning incident to the governors. I need simply record that you have attended the course as an essential part of your career development. Make no mistake, Ruth, it will not be easy to succeed for the Reverend Mould is a hard taskmaster. If you do succeed, then I will consider that you have fairly atoned for your offence against the company."
Ruth felt a huge wave of relief well up inside her.
"Oh, I accept," she cried joyfully. "When can I go? Oh, thank you, Miss Greeves, thank you. I will show you I am worth it. I made a mistake, I know, but I won't let you down again."
So relieved was she that it never entered her head to question what her boss had said, or even enquire about the details. She was just thankful to still have a career.
"Not so fast! You may call me Lillian, in private at least. You always have done and nothing that has happened gives me reason to want to change our relationship. 'Miss Greeves' makes me sound old and, as I discovered on the course, you are as old as you feel."
She gave an enigmatic smile, which Ruth took as a sign that the worst part of her interview was over.
"I said that there were two offences to expiate and I meant it. I shall reserve judgment on how I deal with you personally, until after you return from the course. When you come back, if you still decide that you want to work for me, I will let you know what you must do to regain my confidence." She paused. "And there is a course vacancy next week. I expect you to take it up."
Ruth began to stammer out her thanks again but was cut short.
"That will be all for now. Coral will give you details of how to get to Damocles Priory and she will make all the necessary arrangements. I do not want to speak with you again until you return from the course. Now be off with you."
Ruth did not waste time; she was only too pleased that this most embarrassing and humiliating interview was at an end.
As she turned to leave the office she did not see the broad grin which Lillian Greeves had been at pains to hide from her young protegee. Ruth had behaved rashly but Lillian had simply wanted to shake her up a little. The course would do her good. Ruth Jamieson had no idea what she had let herself in for!
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