Tuesday, February 16, 2016

From the Top Shelf - The Conversion of Miss Henrietta Abbott

Today's extract is taken from the splendid novel, Fellowship of the Rod, by Jacqueline Ophir. It's a tale which moves from 18th century Switzerland to an Academy for Young Ladies in the city of Bath. It is at this academy that this extract is set. It's an amusing tale of the conversion of the Principal, Miss Henrietta Abbott regarding the use corporal punishment.

"Miss Crawfurd, I am most displeased. Please understand that - most displeased at the flaunting of my definite instructions." Thus Miss Henrietta Abbott on her return from Bournemouth.

"How so, Ma'am?"

"I strictly forbade the use of the birch."

"But the birch is not in use, Miss Abbott. Your instructions have been obeyed to the letter."

"It is not the letter of my instructions to which I refer, but the spirit. In my absence you have instituted a regime of physical punishment to which I am quite opposed!"

"But did I not understand you to say you approved, if only as a last resort?"

"I-I may have said something to that effect, yes."

"Then I have done no more than carry out your instructions."

Miss Abbott fanned herself and continued in embarrassment.

"But I am told that girls have been beaten on their..on their.."

"In the maternal manner," said Miss Crawfurd.

"By 'maternal manner' you mean..."

"On the bare skin," said Miss Crawfurd coolly."With my own hand. That is perfectly correct, ma'am. I judged the situation demanded it. Which is why I ordered these mild punishments."


"Indeed so, ma'am. All smackings have been carried out in private - that is, in the presence of only Miss Newton and myself."

"I did not know that," said Miss Abbott. "I understood that some at least had been inflicted in the school."

"I have held that sanction back as yet, ma'am," said Miss Crawfurd,"though it may yet become necessary."

"Not while I am Principal!", said Miss Abbott with unusual vehemence."Such punishments are so...indelicate!"

"Indeed they are," replied Miss Crawfurd. "That is their value."

"Hmmmpphh!" said Miss Abbott. "I consider, Miss Crawfurd, that you have defied me in this matter and I am severely displeased."

"I am sorry that you feel that way, ma'am," said Miss Crawfurd, sweetly playing her trump. "Especially since the number of pupils has increased by four in your absence."

"What's that?" said the old lady, startled despite her annoyance.

"We have four new girls: Miss Heloise Farrar, Miss Daphne Carstairs, and the Misses Penelope and Patricia Wellingford. Thir parents applied for admission, and in your absence I took it upon myself to accept. Miss Farrar has been a pupil for three weeks, Miss Carstairs joined us last Tuesday week and the Wellingford sisters last week. All have happily settled in."

"Er...the fees?"

"Paid in advance, ma'am. I have all the receipts from the bank."

"Oh," said Miss Abbott faintly.

There was a minute's silence in Miss Abbott's study.

"It seems, ma'am, that Miss Christabel de Vere wrote home to her parents, complaining about a punishment that I had awarded and which Miss Newton, on my instructions and in my presence, administered," said Miss Crawfurd.

"There! You see?" began Miss Abbott.

"From a letter I received shortly afterwards from Mr Wellingford, who I understand is a close friend of Mr. De Vere, it was this very knowledge that persuaded Mr Wellingford to withdraw his daughters from their old school and place them with us." continued the younger woman smoothly.

"Oh!" said Miss Abbott again and began to wipe her spectacles.

"I shall have to think about this a little more, Miss Crawfurd," she said, after a moment. "In the meantime, please understand, I wish you to carry out no more physical punishments."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Thank you, Miss Crawfurd."

And that might have been the end of this particular story had it not been that Fate - a female of course - stepped in and played a vital part.

We were speaking of Miss Daphne Carstairs, one of the new girls. Daphne was sixteen, a red-headed, green-eyed girl with wild, almost feline, good looks, high intelligence and a no less high opinion of herself. She had of course initially been told of the kinds of punishment that awaited her were she to transgress, but had so far seen no evidence of them, and after her first week or so of treading carefully, had grown a little scornful. She had begun to misbehave and, as this deterioration in her conduct had coincided with the return of the Principal from Bournemouth and the new injunction against corporal punishment, she had begun to fancy that she had been spun a tissue of lies, and her scorn had turned to contempt, while her behaviour, already poor, had become markedly worse.

She had revealed herself as something of a bully, and due within weeks to attain the status of Great Girl, had begun to throw her weight about in the Lower Class. In the opinion of both Miss Newton and Miss Crawfurd, she sadly needed taking down a peg or two, but in obedience to their employer's instructions, they had stayed their hands, to see what might transpire. In the meantime, the rest of the Lower Class had seen Daphne get away with murder again and again, and as a result general discipline, hard won in the three months of Miss Abbott's absence, was already beginning to crack.

Miss Carstairs was a Bad Influence; but Fate had marked her down.

Her comeuppance happened like this.

It was a Friday morning, and the occasion of Miss Henrietta Abbott's weekly class in Scripture for the benefit of the whole school of twenty-one pupils. As usual, her lesson, delivered in a barely audible voice, was boring in the extreme; and Daphne Carstairs, not entirely without reason, had begun to fidget and show off to younger girls by making faces.

Miss Abbott droned on, and - unseen by her - Daphne's behaviour deteriorated. At the back of the class, Miss Newton's fingers clenched and unclenched at the spectacle of this unchecked little chit mocking the headmistress, but on receipt of a warning frown from her ally, Miss Crawfurd, said and did nothing.

Miss Carstairs' behaviour grew steadily worse; she had begun to throw pieces of wadded paper at one of the girls in front of her.

Still Miss Abbott did not notice.

Then Miss Carstairs went truly beyond the bounds of mere naughtiness. She dipped a wad of paper in her inkwell and threw that.

Enter Fate, wearing a Gioconda smile.

Miss Carstairs really should have been more careful, but as luck would have it, she did not properly withdraw the paper from the inkwell before casting it; with the result that the inkwell - of the loose-socket fitting type - came free at the same time, so that when the inky paper was thrown, so was the vessel containing the liquid in which it had been dipped.

The wad of paper hit its target, causing a splatter of ink on the back of the junior's neck, and a squeal from the target; but more to the point the inkwell itself sailed through the air and struck Miss Abbott on the very crown of her head.

"Oh!" said the old lady, tottering back, her spectacles slipping down her nose. The inkwell stuck in her coiffure and the dark fluid cascaded down her face and all over her dress.

Before anyone could make a move, even before the collective gasp of outrage from the class had diminished - for the old lady was popular with the children and an assault upon her person was no way to win friends - Miss Crawfurd was striding down the aisle with purposeful intent. She reached the desk at which Miss Daphne Carstairs was sitting, the girl aghast at this turn of events, and without speaking, hauled the naughty girl to her feet by the scruff of her dress at the neck, and frog-marched her to the front of the class.

"With your permission, ma'am," said Miss Crawfurd, calmly, and pulled out a chair.

Miss Abbott sat down weakly in her own chair. She was the Principal; she had the power to forbid the event about to take place, but the ink had run down her face and there was a gleam of anger in her watery old eyes that no one could ever remember seeing before. At all events she nodded to Miss Crawfurd, as if to say "Continue!"

Miss Crawfurd pinned the furiously struggling girl down with her powerful left hand, and with her right proceeded to turn back her green frock, and, after that, the white petticoats. Miss Carstairs' drawers thus came into public view.

There was a buzz of rabid excitement from the class, many of whom were standing up to get a better view. Neither Miss Crawfurd or Miss Newton saw fit to curb their enthusiasm.

Miss Crawfurd had now unbuttoned the flaps at the rear of the lacy pantalettes. With a swift movement she hauled this vital garment down to Miss Carstairs' knees.

Miss Carstairs squealed in mortification and rage and kicked furiously. It availed her nothing.

Miss Crawfurd now began to spank her, with great crackling blows from her wide palm. Within a trice Miss Carstairs' tender fundament had turned bright pink. By the sixth mighty slap it had become a brilliant scarlet. By the twelfth it was the colour of a well-aged claret - but by this time Miss Carstairs' furious yells of rage had turned into wild howls of pain. And by the thirtieth mighty smack, she had even ceased to wriggle and was sobbing broken-heartedly.

The watching faces revealed prurience, curiosity and other emotions; but not one face displayed sympathy. In her short time at the Abbott School, Daphne Carstairs had made too many enemies. The girl she had splashed with ink was wide-eyed with excitement.

This was the first physical punishment inflicted in public in the history of the Abbott School.

Miss Crawfurd stood the weeping criminal on her feet and shook her.

"Miss Daphne Carstairs," she said, and you may believe it was NOT in a tone of loving kindness. "Your behaviour has been an outrage. For the rest of the lesson you will stand in the corner, bare as you are, your hands on your head, speaking to no-one. For the remainder of the school week you will wear no frock, merely a single short petticoat, and you will also wear a placard around your neck, which you will prepare yourself, saying 'UNGOVERNABLE'. You will sleep by yourself in the sanatorium. You will write one thousand lines of Cicero in your best handwriting.

"If during the course of that week you attempt to speak to anyone save myself, Miss Newton, Mrs. Sumner or the Headmistress, you will be severely whipped in front of the whole school with a birch rod you have prepared yourself."

She fixed the rest of the pale and awe-struck Lower Class with a flaming eye.

"-And if any girl attempts to speak to Miss Carstairs during the week to come, she will be caned. Is that understood?"

A frightened mumble from the class.

"Is that understood?"

"Y-Yes , ma'am!"

"Miss Abbott, by your leave," said Miss Crawfurd, turning to her ink-stained employer - who had made no effort whatever to intervene during the impressive but well-earned punishment which had just taken place, and indeed sat with an expression very close to malevolent satisfaction on her face - "By your leave, ma'am, you should withdraw and attend..."

"Yes, yes, of course, Miss Crawfurd," said Miss Abbott, rising to her feet. "I will withdraw. And may I say that your actions have my complete approval. My complete approval!"
The Principal has come to her senses at last. I do hope the ink wasn't the permanent kind.
From Hermione's Heart


Lindy Thomas said...

Great story thanks for sharing Hermione. Glad she got what was coming to her.
Hugs Lindy

Hermione said...

Lindy - Thanks. I'm glad too!


ronnie said...

She certainly deserved that spanking. Enjoyed the story Hermione. Thank you.


Hermione said...

Ronnie - I thought it was quite a good one. I must read more from that book.


Cat said...

Good story Hermione...happy the young woman finally got her just 'rewards'! ;) Thanks for sharing.

Hugs and blessings...Cat

Joe said...

Great story, but please correct the misuse of "flaunt". It should be "flout".

Hermione said...

Cat - I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

Joe - In this case, I chose not to change the original wording; I just published it as written.