She did not hear him coming. He glided up beside her from behind as she walked along the school corridor carrying a pile of thirty exercise books with both hands.
'A word in your ear, Miss Jones,' he said silkily.
Sarah Jones was startled and flushed a pretty pink. 'Yes, Headmaster, now?'
He sailed on, passing her by. 'No,' he said, the words drifting back over his shoulder. 'After the staff meeting. Shall we say five o'clock. My study.'
In fact the staff meeting finished unusually early. Sarah Jones killed time marking disappointing essays in her classroom and glancing at her watch every time she turned a page. She did not intend to be late for her one-on-one meeting with the Headmaster, the first since she had joined the school as a probationary teacher a few weeks before. She may be a probationary teacher but she saw her profession as a vocation and one in which it was important to excel.
For all her clock-watching, she was three minutes early. She was standing by the wooden sign with Headmaster written in black lettering, wondering whether to knock, when the door opened from the other side. Two senior girls came out, neither of them looking at her, and scurried off in the other direction. With a start, she recognised them as girls from her class, Judy and Becky. Their heads were down and they seemed to have been crying.
Miss Jones smoothed her hands over her hair and re-tucked her shirt into her waistband. As the clock in the big hall struck five she raised her hand to knock. She was about to knock again when the door was thrown open and the Headmaster, with a sweep of his free arm, beckoned her in.
She preceded him and stood uncertainly in front of his desk. He surprised her by not taking his seat the other side but strolling to the big window where he stood with his back to her apparently studying the playing fields and tennis courts. A vision came unbidden into her mind of him playing tennis. With his tall, slender frame he would look good in a white shirt and shorts.
He turned to face her. 'Please be seated, Miss Jones.'
She looked around for a chair and sat down with relief. His good looks unnerved her, the lantern jaw, tanned skin and flecks of grey hair at his temples. Why did he insist on calling her Miss Jones instead of Sarah? Nobody called her Miss Jones, except her pupils. She didn't even like the name.
He perched on the wide windowsill, the evening sun behind his head so that she could see little more than his darkened silhouette.
'What do you think of your first term teaching? How is it going?'
Not being able to see him properly was even more unnerving than seeing him clearly. 'Super,' she gushed, and then heard herself. She sounded so damned silly and girlish. 'Very well, I think,' she said more moderately.
The voice came again from the direction of the silhouette. 'I have indeed heard good reports of your teaching.'
'I'm glad,' she said, and sat back in her chair, crossing her legs. She could feel the tension in her stomach easing; there was nothing ominous about this meeting, it was clearly going to be his version of a situation report.
There was a silence that she felt she had to fill. 'I'm glad you have had good reports. I have always wanted to be a teacher, and nothing that has happened here has changed my mind. On the contrary.'
The voice from the window said quietly: 'There is more to teaching than teaching, you know.'
'Oh yes,' she said. 'You mean things like pastoral care and extra-curricular activities?'
'Yes those, and discipline. How do you feel about discipline?'
Miss Jones waved her hands in the air in a vaguely dismissive gesture. 'I find there is very little need for it. My class are really very good; they want to learn.'
The headmaster stood up and approached her. His face, when she could see it clearly, looked stern. 'I beg to differ,' he said. 'I deliberately gave you the senior class because the seniors are better behaved but even they have lapses.'
'Nothing I can't handle,' said Sarah, trying to show a confidence she did not really feel.
'Is that so?' The Headmaster sat down across from her and swung his chair sideways so that he could put his feet up on the shiny surface of the desk. She wished she could feel as relaxed as he looked.
He turned his head sideways to talk to her. 'What about the two girls at the beginning of term who were consistently late? Do you remember, I asked you to deal with them? What exactly did you do?' His tone was conversational, a quiet chat between adult equals on a late autumn afternoon.
'I had a word with them,' Sarah replied. 'They promised to buck up.'
'A word. Hm! But weren't they late again on Monday? I did send you a note.'
'Oh yes, indeed, Headmaster. I spoke to them again. Quite sharply.'
The Headmaster swung his feet to the floor and sat forward, fixing her with piercing blue eyes. 'Not sharply enough apparently. They were late again today.'
Sarah fiddled with a button on her shirt. She felt flustered and a little stupid. 'Yes, I am aware of that. I was going to speak to them today but...but I did not want to be late for this meeting. I'll see them tomorrow.'
He waved one hand. 'I have already dealt with them. I have done your work for you. They won't be late again. They have learned a severe lesson about the price of disobedience.'
She noticed the stress on the word They and flushed. 'Thank you, Headmaster.'
He continued as if she had not spoken. 'Miss Jones, you have much to learn if you wish to continue in the profession. There is no teaching, and therefore no learning possible without discipline. Did I not tell you at the beginning of term that if you are tough at the start, you can be lax later, but that if you start off lax you can never then be tough?'
Sarah swallowed but her voice still sounded croaky. 'You did indeed, Headmaster.'
'So what did you do about the girls I asked you to deal with? More than once, I might add.' His tone was distinctly sharper.
Sarah made herself stop playing with her shirt button. 'I talked to them and said that the next time it happened I would keep them back after school.'
'Talk! In other words, you did nothing, absolutely nothing.'
He cut her off. 'Is that not disobedience? Not doing something that I ask you to do. Is that not disobedience comparable to the disobedience of the girls themselves'
Sarah shifted uneasily in her seat. The conversation was not going the way she anticipated. 'I suppose so,' she mumbled, feeling the warm blood in her cheeks and a pulse throbbing in her temples. Damn it, tears were stinging her eyes.
She looked up at him, trying to fight back. 'What was I supposed to do? What would you have done?'
He smiled. At least his lips were drawn back to reveal his teeth. 'I have done it.'
'What...what did you do?'
'I thrashed them. I dealt with them this afternoon just before you came here.'
Sarah could not contain herself. She expostulated: 'I couldn't do that. They are not children, they are young ladies.'
'That is where you are wrong,' he said. 'Discipline is nothing to do with age or size or status or even gender. There are the learners and the learned.' He pronounced the last word in two syllables, learn-ed. 'The learners have to be disciplined by their teachers and the learned are expected to be self-disciplined. In this instance you are among the learners.'
Sarah shook her head but said nothing. She could think of nothing to say.
He went on. 'There are many ways of disciplining the learners, of punishing slackers and miscreants. Detention, extra work, chastisement. I prefer chastisement myself. Experience has taught me that it is the fairest, most effective and quickest deterrent. Soonest done, soonest mended. How old are you?' he asked.
The question took her by surprise. She had to think for a moment before answering. 'Twenty two.'
'See,' the Headmaster said, as if his point was made. 'Just four years older than those two girls. A mere four years. What difference do four years make? None.'
Sarah was still thinking of what he had proposed she should do about disobedience among her pupils. A thrashing. 'I wouldn't know how,' she said.
The Headmaster snorted. 'Then it will be a double lesson for you, not just why but how.'
She hardly dared to ask: 'What will be a double lesson?'
'The thrashing I am going to give you.'
'I am going to cane you.'
'Can't? We have already agreed that your disobedience is as bad as the two girls; worse considering your greater age and your responsibility. I caned them. It is only right and fair that I cane you as well.' He gave a sardonic laugh before adding: 'And to show you how.'
'Oh no, you're not.'
'Indeed I am.'
She sat up straight, her chin out and her eyes blazing. 'I assume that you are not talking about caning me on the hand?'
'I most certainly am not talking about caning you on the hand. What an uncivilised idea.'
'In that case, you are not.'
He leaned back in his chair, as passive as she was aggressive. 'Miss Jones, I caution you to think clearly before you make such statements. Look at it this way; I shall be doing you a favour. I shall be teaching you your job, and that is my job, to teach you. In this instance I am your teacher and you are my pupil. I shall be showing you by example how you should treat your pupils, how you will get the best out of them.'
His words and the tone in which said them were so plausible that some of the fire went out of her eyes. 'I think I understand anyway without you having to show me,' she said meekly, 'but thank you.'
The Headmaster held her eyes with his. 'I don't think you quite understand. On this issue you have no choice. It is not an offer you can accept or refuse. I would be remiss if I did not punish you, I would be guilty of the same sin as you.'
When she said nothing, he added: 'I would hate to see a career that is already blossoming so fruitfully founder over such a trivial issue. What is it after all, just a beating. Soon delivered and sooner forgotten. In a funny kind of way it will bring the two of us closer together.'
She was silent for a moment or two and then said: 'You won't tell anyone? No one will know?'
He laughed: 'Your crime would have to be considerably more heinous for me to cane you in front of the whole school.' When she did not laugh in return, he added: 'No, of course it will be between us. Our secret. That is the first rule of corporal punishment in an institution like ours, that it is private to the participants.'
Sarah's eyes widened. 'Have you caned other teachers?'
He shook his head slowly from side to side but his eyes were twinkling. 'That is for me to know,' he said.
She placed her hands on her skirt, surreptitiously wiping her palms, and said quietly, 'All right, then. When?'
'Now. The second rule of corporal punishment is once it has been decided, don't wait. The quicker it is over and done with the better. I don't suppose you would like to wait until this time tomorrow. Think of the butterflies you would have.'
'I have them now.'
'There, that proves my point.'
'Very well,' she said. 'What is the third rule?'
'The third rule...' He smiled slightly. 'The third rule is peculiar to you. I would like you to fetch the cane from the cupboard over there.' He indicated a wall cupboard by a nod of his head. 'Normally I would get it myself,' he said as she stood up and walked across the room, 'but as I am teaching you to give as well as to receive, so to speak, it is important that you get to know it, the feel and weight of it.'
Squatting on her haunches she rummaged around with her head inside the cupboard. 'Inside the door to the left,' he instructed. 'I keep it out of sight. We don't want to cause any unnecessary...er...talk, do we.'
When she had found it, she carried it gingerly across the room and placed it on his desk, touching it no more than necessary and straightening up with a slight shudder.
'The next rule?' she said unenthusiastically.
He stood up too. 'The most important rule of all, that the bottom must be bare. Would you remove your skirt and panties, please.'
'What,' she expostulated. 'No way.'
The Headmaster sat down again with a tired sigh. 'We are not going have this conversation all over again, are we? Of course your bottom must be bare. That is part of the punishment, the humiliation and the embarrassment, the defencelessness.'
She continued to protest. 'It seems so...so...so unnecessary.'
'You are wrong on that as on other things. You have much to learn. That is why we are going through this.' His voice became stern and commanding. 'Now, enough of this nonsense. Remove your skirt and undergarments.'
She shrugged, and reached for the clasp on the waistband of her skirt. 'You won't reconsider and give me one more chance,' she said plaintively. 'I promise I have already learned my lesson.'
With clumsy fingers she fiddled with the fastener on her skirt, thoughts flashing through her mind. God, she needed a pee. Would it hurt? Was her underwear clean and pretty? Would it hurt very much? Was it some weird sort of foreplay, the sort she had read about? Was he making a sexual advance? She needed a pee so badly she feared she would disgrace herself.
She forced herself to concentrate on the matter at hand. She unfastened her skirt and eased it over her hips, stepping out of it gracefully and placing it over the back of the chair. She eased the tights down, and then sat to remove her shoes and pull the tights off her feet. And then she stood up again, turning herself sideways, and began to push down the waistband of her knickers. She glanced at the Headmaster as she did so and found his eyes were fixed on her face. She stepped out of her knickers and stooped to retrieve them from the floor, throwing them casually onto the seat. Then she turned to face him. The shirt she wore was fitted and narrow and fell just below her navel. She was still half dressed but realised that she had never felt quite so naked.
She raised her eyes to see his reaction, but he was standing up, turned away from her, removing his jacket which he hung casually over the back of his chair. She found herself looking at his groin, seeking to gauge any reaction there. But it was impossible to tell as he was half turned from her.
He walked around the desk and, picking up the cane and placing his other hand lightly in the small of her back, led her across the room. 'Over here, I think,' he said, 'in front of this mirror.'
She noticed it for the first time. Alongside the door was a mirror on the wall, stretching from ceiling to floor. A vanity mirror, she thought briefly, so that he can check his appearance before leaving his study. He positioned her facing the mirror, about five feet from it. 'I want you to watch me as it happens,' he said. 'This is a learning exercise for you as well as a punishment. I want you to watch so that you know what you should be doing in future. Bend down and touch your toes.'
She bent as far as she could but found it uncomfortable. She was not very supple.
'Look up,' he said. The voice came from behind her. She looked up, making her neck ache. She could see him in the mirror directly behind her studying her body. She did not let herself think about exactly what he must be seeing.
'You look uncomfortable,' he said. 'Try resting your hands on your knees. That's right. Now thrust your bottom out towards me. Good. Now arch your back a little.' Their eyes met in the mirror. 'Good,' he said again. 'Now you look more comfortable. Spread your legs wider; you'll find it makes you more stable. Now watch me and keep watching me.'
She watched. She could see the top half of him clearly. He swished the cane in the air a couple of times. In his gleaming white shirt, she thought he looked like a swordsman or a sportsman. He swung the cane from side to side. Perhaps a tennis player.
Their eyes locked again in the mirror. 'I am going to give you six,' he said. 'You will remain exactly as you are now until I have finished. You understand.'
Sarah ducked her head. 'Yes, sir.'
She looked up again just as he reached the top of his back-swing. She heard a frightening whoosh and just caught a glimpse of the shadow of the cane as it whipped through the air towards her. It landed and for a split second she thought it was bearable...just a split second before the screaming pulses of pain reached her brain. 'Oh, my God.'
'Stay still. Look up,' he commanded.
She raised her head but her sight of him was misted. She blinked to focus just as the cane descended for a second time and this time there was no pause between impact and the scalding result. She mewled like an animal caught in a trap.
'Get a grip on yourself,' he said, pausing with the cane at his side.
She managed to resist the desire to touch her bottom but found she was shaking uncontrollably. She tightened the grip of her hands on her knees and raised her head as he wanted, this time though making no attempt to see him.
The third stroke landed near to the creases where her bottom met her thighs, close to her vagina. She screamed and involuntarily stood up, reaching for her bottom.
'Get back down,' he said. 'You will only make it worse for yourself.'
The fierceness of his voice brought out a resistance in her she did not know she possessed. She resumed her position, still shaking uncontrollably but determined to react no more. Let him do his damnedest.
And he did. Three more vicious strokes landed across the weals he had already induced. She did not cry out and when he had finished, she stayed bent over as if demonstrating that she was capable of taking the worst he could deliver.
'That's it,' he said, his voice now surprisingly gentle. 'It's all over.'
She stood up with difficulty, tears running down her cheeks. He put his arm around her shoulders and she found herself leaning into him, one damp cheek pressed into his shirt and her pubic hair tickled by the cloth of his trouser leg.
He kept one arm around her quivering body and stroked her hair briefly. 'You were a very brave girl.' His voice seemed to come from inside his chest, mingling with his heartbeat in her ear. 'It's all over now. You can wipe your eyes and get dressed.'
He stood at the window looking out at the playing fields again as she dressed. When she was done, he faced her, taking her by the shoulders and smiling sympathetically. 'Now you know why and how,' he said. She felt reluctant to go.
An hour later, back in her comfortable little flat, Sarah Jones stripped off all her clothes and bathed, awkwardly trying to keep her buttocks off the bottom of the bathtub.
Still naked she returned to her bedroom and manoeuvred the tall, free-standing mirror around until it was in the position and at the angle that she wanted. She stood with her back to it and bent down, thrusting her bottom out and placing her feet apart. Then she looked over her shoulder.
She studied the rainbow hues of her buttocks, red, indigo and purple, letting the fingers of one hand run lightly over the furrows. Then she looked at the white, unmarked valley between them, with its delicate little dark whorl in the middle and, below that, the moist lips of her vagina. That is how Becky and Judy would look when she caned them.
Then she imagined that the Headmaster was behind her again, his cane in his hand, also looking. Her fingers found their way between the moist lips to the small and impatient bud that was the source of her greatest pleasure. He was so good-looking, so strong, so commanding. It was an image she was determined to keep as more than just a memory.