He would have made an excellent Santa Claus, that man on the other side of the desk. The flowing white beard, the twinklingly blue eyes, the wrinkles pressed from decades of laughter.
On any other occasion, it would be an easy thing to imagine him the jolly saint. Heather could tell from her first day at the academy that he loved his school, and truly enjoyed using his role as headmaster to provide guidance, encouragement, and inspiration for his students. He was frequently seen roaming the corridors, sitting in on lessons, joining the students for meals more often than he even dined with the staff.
Heather glanced around the office- partially to avoid looking at him, partially out of curiosity. Despite being in her final year at the academy, she had never yet entered his private study. She supposed she shouldn’t be surprised at the surroundings, the walls lined with books, the large imposing desk, the image that would be conjured in any mind at the phrase “headmaster’s office”. Still, after spending so many moments chatting and giggling with him between lessons, it was easy to forget that he was more than just another kindly staff member. He had ultimate authority within the institution, but it was exercised so subtly it was easy to forget that it existed.
Less subtle now, she realised with a shudder-squirm as she allowed herself to meet his eyes for a half-moment before lowering her gaze.
“Care to explain why you are here?” his voice called her attention upwards again. Her blood rose in response to colour her cheeks though her gaze lowered even further.
Of course she knew, she was here to be punished. She had always known this situation was possible, that the school prided itself on strict discipline and that a visit here for such purposes was the ultimate sanction. It had been written plainly in black and white, signed off at the start of each year, and yet it hadn’t seemed real. This was the man known for comforting girls after lesser classroom chastisements, bringing them back into the fold, convincing them that a sore bottom was hardly the end of the world, helping repair the relationship between teacher and student.
She remembered how he had sought her out in the courtyard after that fateful day in Mrs. Pearson’s geography class. She had tried to hide- not from him, but from everyone, everyone who had witnessed her shame as she had been called to the front of the classroom, skirt flipped up and knickers lowered, everyone who had watched her bottom as it reddened, supervised its exile to the corner until the end of the lesson. The fact that her partner in crime joined her in a similar state moments later did nothing to lessen her shame. Amy was forever getting into trouble, nothing remarkable there. But how could she live this down?
She had scampered off as soon as the lesson had ended, gathering her books while dodging her classmates, eschewing lunch for the solitude of the courtyard. At least no one could snicker at her here; not that they had during the lesson, Mrs. Pearson wouldn’t have allowed it, but she just knew they all wanted to. She wasn’t one of them anymore, not one of the academy girls, just another naughty girl to be sneered at. Her friendship with the new geography teacher ruined, her honour had been indelibly smirched by Amy’s influence, her path forever altered to the dark side. She had nearly convinced herself that the only solution was to run away, then the headmaster had found her.
She had been close enough to tears already, and dissolved into sobs when he sat beside her. Unfazed, he remained at her side until she had calmed.
“Rough morning?” he asked.
Heather could only sniff. She waited for him to continue, bracing herself for the scolding, but none was forthcoming. The silence stretched, its initial tension dissolving until Heather spoke. “I don’t know what came over me.” She meant to continue, but her voice caught in her throat.
“You gave into temptation is all. Easy enough to do, easy enough to correct if caught early and chastised sufficiently. I’d say that’s the case here, so nothing to be worried about.”
“I don’t know how I can face Mrs. Pearson again.
“It’s all part of the learning experience,” he continued. “Your offense was a public one, and so was the penalty. All involved saw justice carried out. I hear you accepted the punishment with what dignity you could; that is commendable. However, the spanking is not the end of the process.” Heather tensed, she had not expected further chastisement. Surely she hadn’t been naughty enough to warrant a visit to the headmaster’s study? She began to panic as he reached out to her, resisting for a moment his attempt to tip her chin up to meet his eyes.
“All involved saw the retribution; all involved should also see the reconciliation. You owe Mrs. Pearson an apology, and afterwards owe her the opportunity to restore your former friendly relationship. Your classmates will see this, will see that you will not let yourself be defined by this one mistake, will see that you have accepted your guilt, have learned from the punishment, and have set the incident behind you. Can you do this?”
Heather took a shuddering breath. “I’ll try.”
“It’s not easy, not for you, not for Amy. Amy has her own way of working through the emotions involved- between you and me, I hope that you’ll choose a different one, one that doesn’t land you back across the teacher’s desk or in my office. However, whichever method you choose, we’ll be here for you.” She felt him squeeze her hand, and returned the gesture. “Ready to rejoin the school?”
She nodded slowly, dreading the stares that would doubtless meet her. “Take your time,” he counselled. “Clean yourself up and have something to eat. I’ll write you a note to excuse your tardiness in your next lesson. Otherwise- two spankings in a day? Now that might be something would be talked about for quite some time. I’d think you have enough to be getting on with after just the one punishment, wouldn’t you agree?” he said as he stood, dusted himself off and extended a hand toward her.
Heather nodded, and managed a bit of a smile as she grasped his hand and pulled herself to her feet and together. As she went off to the toilets to wash her face, she felt marginally better, if not quite herself again. She was at least ready to face the rest of the school.
Sure, there were a few whispers and stares, but she knew she’d survive. And she also knew she’d never earn another spanking again.
She had nearly made it too; had gotten to her final month at the Academy without much more than the occasional quick scolding and gentle rebuke for minor mischief. She might have succeeded in her goal, had she not fell prey to Jer’s easy manner and rebellious streak. She wasn’t the sort of girl to sneak out, but the promise of a bit of stolen time, free from the supervision of the debate coaches who had watched the rare co-educational team hawkishly. It was just a drink and a chat- something which, had she waited a couple months, would have hardly been worth notice. But she couldn’t resist the near magical power Jer had over her, and had agreed to the midnight meeting more easily than she’d agreed to join even the debate team where they’d first met.
It was the clinking of the bottles that had given her away. She should have just left them, Jer had told her to, but she couldn’t live with herself as a litterer.
She shouldn’t have brought them to begin with, but Jer had asked so nicely and she had wanted to prove herself. Sure enough, the shopkeeper hadn’t asked any questions, hadn’t even commented on her furtive glances, her anxious twitching- she knew she’d have no future as a spy, but this one small success had given her a giddy thrill that had manifested itself in a giant grin, dispelled hours later in the harsh glare of the groundskeeper’s lantern.
“Why are you here?” the headmaster asked again. If her reticience was trying his patience, he didn’t show it.
‘Because Old Mr. Jones’s hearing isn’t as bad as he makes it out to be,’ she longed to snip, but knew better. “Because I was out of bounds,” she replied, confessing the least of her sins.
The headmaster nodded and waited, not letting her take the easy way out.
“And because I was drinking,” she continued, “and meeting with a boy.” She couldn’t bring herself to look up to see if this last came as a surprise, if she might have saved herself a fraction of trouble by keeping this to herself, but once she had started she felt a need to continue, to purge her conscience. How much worse could the retribution get?
The headmaster paused before responding, allowing time for the confession to stew. “You understand, then how serious this matter is. These are dangerous things, wandering off alone at night, meeting secretly with someone whose own judgement you had plenty reason to question. To say nothing of the drinking and fraternising, the harm to the school’s reputation had anything happened to you would have been astronomical.”
“I am sorry, Sir,” Heather replied.
After an age, the headmaster continued. “I can see that. And I am sure you know that we cannot let such behaviour go without sanction. Under normal circumstances, you would be caned,” he let the first portion of the proposed sentence sink in, “as well as restricted to our dormitory for several weeks. I’m sure you can see the appropriateness of such a punishment, given the nature of your offense.”
“Yes, Sir,” Heather conceded, feeling an incongruous trickle of relief; the horror of expulsion that had plagued her since her discovery having lifted from her mind.
“However,” Heather froze as he continued, “I doubt very much that you wish to spend your last days here under restriction. Given that this behaviour is out of character for you, and given your obvious remorse, I will offer you the option of accepting a purely corporal chastisement in this instance. Understand, though, that this is not simply waiving the restriction; the punishment will be more severe than a simple caning, and not merely in terms of pain. What do you choose?”
The comments on severity gave her pause, but there was no choice. Heather took a breath, knowing that the punishment was to be horrid regardless, knowing that she deserved it. “I’ll accept the corporal punishment, Sir.”
“Very well,” the headmaster replied before opening a drawer of his desk. “Take these to Matron.”
Heather extended her hand, into which he dropped a triol safety pins. Heather looked up at him quizzically, but his stern expression did not waiver. “Matron,” he said simply, before dismissing her with a wave. Her knees shook as she rose, beginning to understand how the punishment was not confined to the physical pain of the experience. Trying to keep a rein on her anxiety, she turned to leave the office and face the unknown.
Matron was not pleased to see her, but Matron was never pleased to see anyone.
“What now, and be quick about it,” she snapped before Heather had so much as knocked on the doorframe.
“Er. . . the headmaster sent me with these,” Heather spat out quickly, as though the speed of her speech might buy her leniency.
“And what am I to do with those?” Matron chipped back.
“He- he didn’t say,” Heather stammered, her nerves jangling. “He only said that I was to be severely punished.”
“Ah, so he expects me to explain the birching process, does he then? As though I don’t have enough to get on with already. Very well, give them here,” Matron snapped her fingers and held out her hand. Heather had barely dumped the pins into it before Matron barked at her to turn around, grabbing her shoulders roughly to assist in the process. “Hold still, girl. This isn’t meant to be the painful part, but I won’t hesitate to spank you if needed.”
Heather felt her skirt lift and her cheeks redden, memories of the last time her clothing had been similarly adjusted rushing back unbidden. She expected to feel her knickers descend next, but instead felt a series of sharp tugs on the back of her blouse before being abruptly turned around again and shoved toward the door.
“Off to Mr. Jones with you, and be back within the hour; I can’t be waiting for you all day.”
Heather scarpered; as awful as it was to walk through the school with her skirt pinned up , she had no desire to risk incurring Matron’s famed wrath.
Old Mr Jones had lived in the gatehouse for as long as anyone could remember. Aside from her brief encounter after scrambling over the outer wall, Heather had only ever seen him from a distance as he went about his duties. As she walked the winding drive away from the main building, trying to ignore the cool breeze on her backside and resist the urge to adjust her clothing, she cast about for any memories of other students’ dealings with him, but came up empty.
She held her breath as she knocked, at his door, praying that he would not be as harsh as Matron, and also that no one would come down the road to see her in her current state. She knew this was part of her punishment, but felt herself starting to break down. As the moments stretched on, she raised her fist to knock again, wondering what she was to do if he were elsewhere on the grounds and fighting back tears of panic and shame.
Before she could knock, she heard a gruff voice from behind her.
“I was wonderin’ if I might see ye today.”
Heather whirled around, hands clasped to her bottom in a futile attempt to preserve her modesty to see Mr. Jones leaning on an old rake.
“Matron has sent me.” Heather gave by way of explanation. “I-”
“I know.” Mr. Jones interrupted her. “Come.” He limped off without looking back.
Heather followed him in silence as he led her back along the road before turning down a gravel path. Mr Jones paused at the juncture to open the doors of a small shed and retrieve a pair of pruning shears which he passed to Heather before continuing along the path.
Heather tried to follow quietly, enjoying the silence and isolation of the forest path as a welcome respite from the ordeal, but her anxiety and curiosity got the better of her. “Where are we going?” she asked.
Old Mr. Jones glanced back over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow. “No one’s told ye about the birchin’ yet?” Heather thought she detected a hint of amusement in his voice, and fought hard to bite down on her frustration and growing fear of whatever lay in store for her. Before she chould think of a polite way to voice her questions and concerns, he continued, “Barely used anymore, them’s sayin’ now it’s indecent,” he chuckled to himself. “Thought I might have made the last of these trips, but when I saw you come a-tumblin’ over the wall last night, well, maybe some traditions might live on a bit longer.”
“But what is this birching thing anyway?” Heather asked, her voice rising to a whining shrill though she couldn’t care less. “Everyone keeps going on about it like it’s this huge secret everyone knows but me, and I know I need to be punished, but why can’t you just tell me what this is all about? Why keep me guessing for so long? How much longer must I walk around like this? Why am I out her following you, of all people, around the groumds? Why make-”
She would have continued her barrage, but the groundskeeper turned back to her and in a beat had her flipped over his left arm as he landed three swift swats to her behind with the other. He stood her back up and fixed her with a disarmingly firm glare to match the grip on her shoulders.
“I would suggest a bit of patience and manners would go a long way towards gettin’ the answers ye seek.” Heather worked her mouth, but no words emerged. “I may not be a teacher here, but I expect you to treat me with the same respect you would do with any other member of staff, particularly given your current situation,” he glanced down at her skirt meaningfully, and Heather’s fury melted into shame.
“Since you asked, and since the yer clearly distressed by the mystery, I’ll explain a few things to ye as we walk,” he said as he turned back down the path again. Heather followed closely, grasping onto his every word as though her life depended on it- if not her life, she knew what remained of her dignity may well do so.
“We’re after a bundle of twigs for yer birchin’. A dozen or so will do, I’ll show you which ones when we get there. Ye’ll take em up to Matron to bind the rod, then the headmaster will see to it ye’ll never think of pullin’ somethin’ like that again. I’ve not seen a birchin’ in a good while, and even when they were in use ‘twas rare enough. Never had a repeat customer,” he said with a wink back over his shoulder.
Heather bristled at the words and the wink, but wisely kept quiet until they arrived at the grove. Mr Jones selected a long, slender branch and clipped it from the tree, and carefully stripped off the leaves before showing it to her. “As long as your forearm, as straight as you can find, and about so wide at the base. Ye’ll need another dozen or so of these. Careful when removing the leaves that you don’t take off too many of the smaller branches. Looks wicked, but softens the blow. Yer bottom with thak ye for it. Take yer time quick-like, don’t want to keep Matron a-waitin.”
Heather took the shears with a shudder, wondering just how much of her hour remained. As quickly as she could, she gathered and prepared the required branches and returned to where Old Mr. Jones waited, leaning against a tree. He examined her selections with a furrowed brow. Without warning, he grasped her shoulder, thrust her up against the tree, and brought one of her twigs swishing down on her bottom where it broke with a sharp crack and a yelp from Heather.
“Brittle. Dry,” he spun her around to show her the broken stump of the twig. “A good birch’d better last longer than that. Ye’ll need to replace that one, and while yer at it, I’d be recommendin’ replacin’ these three as well, unless ye’d like another demonstration?”
“N-no, Sir,” Heather stammered, clutching the line of fire across her bottom. If one dry twig hurt that much, what would the full dozen do?
When she had finished preparing the four additional twigs to Mr. Jones’s satisfaction, he led her back to the main road to the school and returned the shears to the shed.
“Off to Matron with ye, best not keep ‘er waitin’, yer in for enough bother as it is.”
Heather nodded, more a tic than an acquiescence as her feet remained firmly planted, sounds of her classmates at break sending chills down her spine and freezing her legs. What had she agreed to with this punishment?
“It’ll sting like the blazes, but it won’t kill ye.” Mr Jones said, his voice softer than before. Cocking his head toward the sounds troubling her, he gave her a final wink. “And don’t be mindin’ ‘em. With the end-of-term excitement, today’s drama is soon forgot.” He gave her a gendle nudge towards her fate.
Glumly resolute, Heather returned to the main building and Matron’s lair, hoping against hope that somehow she would escape the notice of the rest of the school on her journey.
“Three minutes late. Three minutes over my knee should help teach you the value of time, wouldn’t you think?” Matron looked at her significantly as she sat in a straight-backed chair.
Heather carefully laid her bundle on the table and reluctantly walked toward Matron, wondering not for the first time how the woman had managed to keep this supposedly nurturing position. Had she been as caustic when she first joined the staff, or had something here worn her down over the years? It made little difference now; Heather had been well aware of her short temper but had thus far managed to avoid the dreaded impromptu spankings the other girls had complained of.
She felt her knickers descend, and with the renewed blush she also felt another wave of shame and anxiety. What with having paraded around the school with her knickers on show and the prospect of a birching in her future, a quick hand spanking shouldn’t have much purchase on her conscience, yet the childish position in itself found a new way to humiliate her. Heather was sniffing back tears before the spanking had even started, and within the first minute Matron’s hand had reduced her to sobs.
“Keep still, girl, we’ve only just started,” she scolded as Heather began to kick. “We’re not halfway through here, you’d best learn to control yourself before the headmaster has at you as well. With what you have coming, you wouldn’t want to earn anything extra.”
Heather tried to keep her legs steady, crossing and uncrossing her ankles in a vain attempt to distract herself from the building sting, her knuckles white from her grip on the lower rung of Matron’s chair, and her sobs growing louder and more desperate as the spanking progressed. As the sting started to become unbearable, Heather felt her panic rise. If this was what a spanking felt like, how could she endure the birching?
“We’ll leave it there for now, though don’t think I’ll have you right back over if you dally.” Matron scolded as she set Heather upright. “Now, bring me your birch-makings.”
Heather reached down to pull up her knickers, but Matron slapped her hands away. “Leave them, you won’t be needing them for quite some time.”
Heather choked down a whine as she hobbled over to retrieve the branches and passed them to Matron. Matron toon the bundle, examining each twig as she neatly aligned the ends. Cutting a length of twine from a spool on her sewing table, she turned toward Heather and began to wind the twine around the ends. “Keep the bundle tight and wrap them neatly until you run out of cord.” Heather fumbled with the bundle Matron pushed toward her. As she blinked away a few lingering tears, she quickly wound the cord around the rod and presented her work to Matron.
“What do you call this mess?” Matron asked, sneering at the wrapping. “Cords crossed every which way, have you no pride girl? It’s your bottom to be blistered, not the headmaster’s hand. Try again,” she emphasised her command with a firm swat to her bare bottom that made Heather jump.
Heather unwound the cord with shaking hands- hands that were useless at holding the twigs together after the cord loosened. As the twigs clattered to the floor, Heather heard Matron sigh. She closed her eyes, bracing herself for another whack that never arrived. Braving a squinted glance, she saw matron rise from the floor, the twigs bundled back in her hand. Matron took the cord from Heather’s limp grasp and began the binding again. “Like this, each turn lying flat against the last. You have enough cord there for a good six inches of handle this way. Keep it tense as you wrap lest it unravel.”
Heather reached out to take back the offered rod, continuing to wrap as matron had shown her, the monotony of the winding easing her panic. Her second attempt earned a nod from Matron. “That’ll do,” she affirmed. “Take that off to the headmaster now, and I’ll see you back here straight after.”
“Might I. . .” Heather began to ask, gesturing toward her knickers.
“Leave them. Or take them off if they’re in the way. You’re not to pull them back up until after.”
Heather chewed her lip as she stepped out of her knickers and passed them into Matron’s outstretched hand. Better to be bare than struggling to keep them around her knees. Besides, it wasn’t as though a thin band of cloth around her legs made her any less exposed for what she hoped would be the final humiliating trek.
The headmaster’s secretary had shown her straight into the office, and Heather retained just enough awareness to be grateful to be spared a wait on the bench in the corridor. Still, standing in the office of a man she respected and admired, knowing she was only there to be punished had her tears threatening before he had so much as looked up from his reading.
If it was difficult to meet his gaze before, now it was impossible. With her smarting bare bottom on display, handling the implement of her impending chastisement, Heather felt lower than she ever had in her life. She felt out of place among the dignified trappings of the headmasters office, though that was hardly the main reason she longed to be anywhere but here.
She heard his chair scrape back, his footsteps approach. She heard him walk behind her, and could almost feel his eyes checking her preparation. “I see Matron has gotten to you first,” he said evenly. “It may not have felt like it, but she has done you a favour. This will not be easy to take, but the warmup will have helped.” Heather nodded, not quite understanding.
“Hand me the rod.”
His voice was gentle, but even so the words cut deeply. She wasn’t here as a star pupil to be encouraged, but as a naughty girl for a beating. If he noticed her tears as he took the rod from her- how could he not?- he didn’t say so.
She jumped as he swished the implement through the air, the whistle harsh and threatening. “This will do, well done.”
The unexpected praise elicited a small sob, which redoubled as she felt his hand steady her shoulder and guide her towards his desk. “Bend over, and hold the far edge as tight as you can. This will hurt, but not nearly as much as any number of things that might have befallen you while out wandering on your own. Remember that as we progress. Keep your feet and elbows down. If you cannot hold still my secretary will come into assist you. Shall I call her now?”
Heather shook her head, almost violently, stealing her resolve. She could do this on her own, she owed him that much.
“Very well,” he gave her shoulder one final tap before taking up position behind her to examine her bottom.
She heard the rod swish through the air again, and tensed in anticipation of searing pain that didn’t arrive. The rod swished again, another practice stroke well away from her bottom. She began to unclench with a giddy giggle that transformed to a scream as the third swish ended in a stinging crash on her bottom. She panted against the desk, struggling to process the sensation and not quite managing before the next stroke landed. The strokes came hard and fast, more quickly and ferociously than she could cope with. It more shock than conviction that kept her pinned to the desk.
“Feet down,” she heard distantly, and gradually realised her legs had curled up of their own volition, her mind being in no state to control much. She forced them back down, wincing as the skin stretched over her bottom. Panting, she planted her feet, willing them to stay put.
“Good girl. Keep them there. Nearly through, bend back down,” he placed a hand on the small of her back, it’s warmth calming her as the slight pressure eased her down over the desk. It was a small but crucial comfort as the birch cut into her once again, the resumption of the punishment twice again as painful after the short break. Heather cried continuously through the rest of her punishment, pushing against the hand that held her, though the firm, gentle pressure was more than sufficient to defeat her unfocused efforts.
The headmaster did not announce the end to her punishment, instead allowing Heather to return at her own pace, then rise when she was steady enough to do so.
Heather wiped her eyes clear, and noticed for the first time the mess the birching had left all over the headmaster’s floor. Shame deepening at the chaos she had caused in this otherwise well-ordered space, she dropped to her knees to begin gathering up the bits of twig that had broken off in the course of her chastisement.
It took several long, tender-wincing minutes to gather the pieces into the bin. When she rose again, she found the headmaster smiling kindly at her. “That was hardly necessary, though the gesture is appreciated. I think we can dispense with the corner time; your penance is sufficiently complete. Back to Matron now, she’ll give you something to help your bottom heal, though I warn you that it might not feel so at first. Think of it as part of the punishment if that helps.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Heather replied, his smile warming her in a far more pleasant way that the sear of the birch. As she turned to go, hands gingerly caressing her bottom, she remembered the pins. “Sir, may I . . .” she tugged at her hem and glanced back at him.
“Leave your skirt as it is,” he said sternly before lightening. “It will only hurt you more to let it down now. Besides, you have no more to fear walking back to Matron now than you had on the way here. If anything, you can take pride in the return trip. It’s one thing to walk the corridors with a pinkened bottom, another to show its current state. That you had been punished is obvious either way, girls will talk as they always do. May as well give them something worth talking about, don’t you think? If nothing else, it should dissuade any of the others thinking of prematurely venturing into the outside world.”
Heather returned his small smile before leaving. Pride might have been something of an overstatement, but his words helped her keep her chin up for the walk back to Matron. She had been punished, and was arguably still being, but any shame she had felt had been replaced with absolution. The punishment was not something that would follow her forever, but merely a momentary discomfort to compensate for a foolish decision.
Life would go on.