Elizabeth Marsh had met her very pretty, golden-haired step-sister, Lily, at the tuck shop and bought her some chocolate, as she did from time to time. Lily, or ‘Prune’ as she was always called, was a bit younger, and Elizabeth was in the heights of the Upper Sixth. Prune, on occasions at least, could be extremely aggravating. Elizabeth felt a certain responsibility for Prune and as her god-mother sent Elizabeth regular postal orders, it seemed only fair to share the proceeds.

Having bought the chocolate, they strolled away from the noise of the tuck shop and into the playground where the sun was shining and the clouds were white, but it was only just about warm enough. It was only when they were outside that Elizabeth realised her naughty little sister was walking slightly awkwardly and had red eyes. It looked as if she had been crying.

“Oh Prune, you have not gone and got it again, have you?” Elizabeth exclaimed, knowing her sister had already managed to get the cane three times that term, including four strokes for quite serious bullying less than a week ago.

“It wasn’t a big deal!” said Prune, a touch grumpily. “Miss Levitt just gave me two strokes. I think she really did not want to do it, but Simpo had sent me to her and she never lets you off if you get sent. But it really stung and it did not help I was still a bit tender from last time. It was such a nasty whippy little cane. And I think the marks are swelling a bit. I hate having to bend over, it is so embarrassing. And why do we get it on our knickers? Boys get to keep their trousers on. It is so unfair.”

“It isn’t that unfair!” Elizabeth replied, a touch unfeelingly. “Our winter knickers have more cloth to them than boys’ trousers. Anyway, we always get less strokes. Four whacks is a lot to get here, whereas Ron says that is the least they get at St Faith’s, not that he has had it, and it is often five or six, or more. So, what dire crime did you commit this time that Simpo sent you? It isn’t like her. I thought you got on with her.”

“I have had four strokes twice this term,” Prune said crossly. “Can I have some chocolate please, big sister?”

Without saying anything more, Elizabeth partially unwrapped the bar and gave herself a couple of squares and her sister quite a lot more. She did not approve of her sister being so naughty, but she felt equally that Prune needed comforting.

As Prune munched, Elizabeth wondered if she was going to get to see the welts again, which she had done the previous week. Her naughty little sister had been in agony and had begged her to put some cream on as she was too embarrassed to ask one of her friends. There was something about actually having seen those four neatly placed welts. It had made her almost envious of Prune, which was silly, for Prune had received a very well-deserved punishment for being involved with several other little fiends in the cruel, persistent teasing of a very shy girl who was new to the school.

Apparently, all three of the little horrors had been forced to removed their gym slips and bend over in a line in the headmistress’s study. Prune said that what had really got to her was being last in the line and hearing the other girl’s crying out and sobbing. Elizabeth wondered why it was that she would have liked to have been the last girl in that line. Undoubtedly, Prune’s rather lurid description had stirred something inside her. Not that she liked the idea of getting the cane; it always rather frightened her.

“Don’t you want to know what I did?” Prune was saying almost indignantly, having gobbled her quite large share of the chocolate.

“If you really want to tell me,” Elizabeth said indulgently.

“Simpo told us to write a composition about that stupid poem ‘The Ancient Mariner’, so I did, and I said exactly what I thought, that nothing in it could possibly happen. Then I slipped in the middle, where I thought she would never read it, that only a fucking madman could have written it.”

“You didn’t really write ‘fucking’, did you?” Elizabeth asked in a mixture of mild horror and amusement.

“Yes, I did, and she read all of it. She asked me if I really meant to use a swear word and I said I did mean it, so she sent me to Miss Levitt. Miss Levitt said she had some sympathy with my view of the poem, but swearing was swearing. So, off came my gym slip and over I bent again. At least it was only two, but god it stung!”

“I think Miss Levitt got it about right,” said Elizabeth thoughtfully, imagining Prune bent over minus her gym slip with her blouse flopping and her tie and long gold hair hanging down. “Swearing is just not permitted. You ought to know that, Prune. At least you did not get four again, which frankly I would have expected after you have been so naughty all term. She obviously thought there was something to be said for your point of view. You know, at this rate you could end up being the first girl in yonks to get six of the best. I would not push it if I were you! It really did happen to a Sixth form girl who punched somebody during the first year I was here. Better than being expelled, no doubt, but it really does happen.”

“Oh do stop jawing me, big sister!” Prune protested. “Can’t I have some more chocolate? And if you’ve got a minute, could I please have some cream again on my bum? It really helped last time.”

“If you must!” said Elizabeth, knowing uncomfortably that she would enjoy administering the ointment to her sister’s soft white flesh.


The following day was Saturday. Saturday afternoons were free to do what you liked within reason, and Elizabeth perhaps rather unwisely allowed herself to be persuaded to take Prune into town to the Regal cinema to cheer her up. Prune would have liked her rather uncouth little gang to come as well, but Elizabeth flatly refused. Prune by herself was very intelligent and rather lively, but with her friends she would be just plain stupid.

Normally, Elizabeth would have enjoyed it a trip to the cinema, but her taste in films was much more adult than Prune’s, who insisted she really wanted to see a dubious thing about Robin Hood. Elizabeth sat and brooded through it, full of irritation at being dragged out to see this nonsense just to cheer up her naughty little step-sister.

However, something in Elizabeth stirred when the Maid Marion character, who was called something else for some reason or other, was caught helping the grotty outlaw, and it was proclaimed she was going to be well whipped. Elizabeth waited for this interesting event to happen with some anticipation, but sadly it did not. She could only wonder why this annoyed her so much, and try and imagine what it might have been like. Did they whip young ladies bare in the Middle Ages, or did they leave them that under-garment? Was it called a shift? From the bits of social history she had done with Miss Reading, she thought it probably was a shift and certainly they did not wear knickers back then. Eventually, she settled for a white shift and imagined the pretty actress, with her plump breasts flopping, tied to a post while a large leather whip whistled through the air. Or would they have held her down, she wondered. It was almost a pleasant reverie, though she found it hard to know why she was enjoying it. She felt almost annoyed when the film ended before her imaginings did.

Outside the cinema, it was turning towards evening and it was chilly. Prune could not stop chattering, and it was an irritatingly long and freezing walk to the bus stop. Elizabeth felt she needed a cigarette. She rarely, if ever, smoked in school. The penalties were just too severe. When she was home, though, it was a different story, for their step-mother, Alice, and her father did not mind her doing it within reason.

Surely if she was caught smoking in town, because she was an Upper Sixth Former and a prefect, Miss Levitt would turn a blind eye, or maybe just give her a lecture. Anyway, it was just far too cold and the chances of her being spotted smoking in town were surely very low. It was worth the very slight risk of a caning, she decided, though something in her also said that it would be an experience to have the cane. It was faintly ridiculous she had never had it, for she had never been that good.

She paused outside a small tobacconist and started to walk through the door.

“Elizabeth! What are you doing? You know we are not supposed to smoke. It is not good for you. You shouldn’t be going in there,” Prune was saying in a severe and puritanical tone, and tugging annoyingly at her older sister’s sleeve.

“I am freezing, I am eighteen, and Mum and Dad let me smoke. You know they do.”

“They shouldn’t. It’s bad for you, and anyway we are at school now. If one of the mistresses sees you, you could be for the high jump. They will do you precisely because you are a prefect. You will be lucky to get the cane. They will probably chuck you out. For goodness sake, Elizabeth!”

“You are not my Mother, and I am going to buy some cigarettes and warm myself up,” Elizabeth snarled. She shook herself free and strode into the small tobacconist.

She gazed for a second at the huge array of cigarette packets before buying some more or less at random, braving the ironic look on the tobacconist’s face at the sight of her school hat and uniform.

“You’re brave!” he said as she turned to go. “They use the cane a lot at St Margaret’s, almost as much as at some of the boys’ schools. I should watch yourself, young lady.”

“I will be alright, I’m a prefect,” Elizabeth stated loftily, and walked out before the conversation got even more embarrassing. As it was, the man’s prophecy was more than slightly unnerving.

However, she lit a cigarette despite more protests from Prune, and felt rapidly warmer. As they walked, Prune fell silent and Elizabeth began to enjoy the feeling of being a rebel.

Not far now to the bus stop, she realized. It was only a little way up the hill and she had better put the cigarette out before she got there. It was not impossible there would be a mistress waiting, who might or might not choose to take notice.

It was just after this wise resolution that a car stopped and a door opened.

“Sugar!” said Prune, who was walking slightly behind. “It’s the headmistress!”

Elizabeth turned and felt decidedly faint as she realized that it was indeed Miss Levitt’s very solid body, draped in a large fur coat, that was emerging from the passenger seat of the large Morris Oxford.

“In the back of the car, both of you. We are going to discuss this gross breach of school rules in my study!” the headmistress was saying with very real anger.

Prune obeyed immediately. Elizabeth thought for a brief second of running away and hoping she had not been recognised, but then realized that would be very unlikely and it would only make whatever was coming a great deal worse. She followed Prune into the back seat. As she sat down, feeling more than slightly sick, she noticed how cold and clammy the leather of the car seat was.

The car sped off. Miss Jenkins, the Music Mistress, was the driver, Elizabeth realized. But why was Miss Levitt not driving? Ah, the headmistress had been banned for speeding, she suddenly remembered, which brought a brief grin to her face.

One oddity she noticed was that Miss Levitt and Miss Jenkins were not chattering. The whole school knew the two women chattered and gossiped at any opportunity, but perhaps they were put off doing it by the presence of the two culprits in the back seat.

Then Elizabeth started imagining the girl in the film being marched along in just her white shift by a couple of burly men-at-arms down a long grey corridor in an old castle. She could feel the cold of the paving stones under her feet, and the girl’s chattering teeth and fear. Whatever might be said about this as history, it would make a good story, she thought, which would be much better than the film. Maybe one day she should write it. She had always said she would write a novel one day. Perhaps the girl was really going to be beheaded or hanged and not whipped at all? She would have to decide about that if she really wrote the novel, but quite probably she would never get round to it.

It only took ten or fifteen minutes to reach the school, but despite Elizabeth’s interesting day dream, it seemed to take almost literally forever.

Eventually, the car stopped in the small car park outside the main entrance of the old house that was most, if by no means all, of St Margaret’s school for girls. Elizabeth wondered if she should get out without being told.

Then Miss Levitt’s voice was saying, “Right, out you get, girls. Don’t just sit there dawdling. You have ten minutes to make yourselves presentable. Then I expect you at my study, where you will face the consequences of your misbehaviour.”

The two girls walked up the staircase that led to the Senior Girls and Mistress’s studies on the third floor, and the dormitories at the top, which were notoriously freezing.

They paused on the third floor landing, and Prune said, “If I get the cane again for just being with you, it will be so unfair. I told you not to do it. I really did.”

“I will do everything I can to stop it happening. It would be very unfair. And if it happens, I will make it up to you,” Elizabeth said desperately.

“You will probably not be here to be able to make it up to me,” Prune stated bleakly, as if Elizabeth’s expulsion was almost certain. She strode up the stairs to her dormitory.

Elizabeth was left in tears by that, but she knew she must get on and somehow cope with this awful situation. She resolutely blew her nose and went to the study that she shared with Julia Fairfax. Mercifully, Julia was not there to gloat over her misfortune. Elizabeth went to the wash-stand, splashed cold water on her face and washed her hands, after a fashion. On an impulse, she changed her school knickers, though there was not a lot wrong with the ones she had on. How much protection would they give? She had quite a large bottom for her age and they would probably tighten horribly when she bent over. Still, better the cane than being expelled! Or would she have to endure both?

There was a knock at the door. Who was it? Elizabeth stumbled over to open it. She felt frightened of what might be on the other side of that door, and nearly did not open it.

Then she heard Prune saying, “Do come on. She will be more horrid still if we are late.”

Elizabeth opened the door and they walked down the stairs together to the head mistress’s study on the ground floor. They paused very briefly outside the door.

“I will do my best for you,” Elizabeth said.

“I know you will,” Prune replied. “Sorry if I was cross just now.” She squeezed her step-sister’s hand.

“Better get it over with,” Elizabeth said, and knocked at the large, heavily stained oak door, which she thought would not be out of place in the castle she had been imagining for her novel, if she ever wrote it.

The door must have opened, but Elizabeth only really came to as they were standing side by side in front of the headmistress. She was positively shaking, and her stomach was full of butterflies, she realized, but she must not make a fool of herself. She needed to keep her head for Prune’s sake, and indeed her own.

“Perhaps in a way, you two girls were unfortunate,” Miss Levitt announced unexpectedly. “Probably you did not know that a live cigarette glows like a beacon in the dark. I remember when I was a nurse in the war treating men who had got hit by a sniper while smoking. However, we have rules against smoking for very good reasons. It is unhygienic and unhealthy, and quite apart from that there is a real fire risk in an old building like this with a lot of wood and paper about.

“As is usual on these occasions, Lily, you will have the cane on the seat of your knickers, six strokes, which is two more than I normally give for smoking. You are getting the extra two because I am sick and tired of you being in and out of my office, and in any case it would not surprise me at all if you were the original owner of this cigarette. You must anyway have been sharing it. If this does not work, I shall be thinking of asking your father to remove you from the school.”

Elizabeth had to stop and think to remember Prune’s proper name was Lily, which nobody normally used.

“As to you, Miss Elizabeth Marsh, you are going to be on the next train home. It is beyond belief that a Senior girl and prefect can join a younger girl in smoking. Now go and stand outside the door and wait while your step-sister gets her just deserts.”

“But Miss Levitt,” Prune began to protest.

Miss Levitt fixed her with a glassy stare and said very quietly, “I really would not say another word, Lily. You have pushed my patience this term to its absolute limit, and you are drinking at the last chance saloon. And now, Elizabeth Marsh, would you please get out of the room and let me get on with dealing with your step-sister before I decide to expel her as well.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest Lily’s innocence in spite of this threat, but at that moment the black phone on Miss Levitt’s desk rang loudly and ominously.

Miss Levitt stood uncertainly, ignoring the uncouth noise for a little while, then picked the phone up and said, “Oh, it’s you, Charles. I wasn’t really expecting to hear from you again.”

Then she gestured frantically with her hand for the two girls to go out of the room.

They exited through the door, shut it and looked at one another.

“I was joking when I said you would be the first girl for ages to get six of the best, and now it’s happening. Poor you!” Elizabeth said for want of anything better to say.

“At least I am not being expelled, though I am not sure I would not rather be, especially if you’re being sent home. This is really going to hurt. I hope I don’t yell too much. People always think it is a joke if you really yell, and it gets remembered forever,” Prune said wearily.

“You have had plenty of experience, you will cope,” Elizabeth said with more confidence than she felt.

“I wonder what Dad will say,” Prune mused aloud.

“Probably ten minutes at least over his knee with a hair brush on my bum,” Elizabeth said succinctly. “He has never actually done it, but I bet he does this time. He will not be pleased.”

“I wonder if I will get it as well? Hopefully, he will think six of the best is enough,” Prune muttered nervously.

The noise of Miss Levitt’s voice in the study suddenly grew quite loud. Whatever was going on? She was really yelling down the phone, but annoyingly the actual words were inaudible.

“Sounds like a real row. I wonder who it is she is yelling at?” Elizabeth said almost conversationally, glad to be distracted from this awful situation.

“Headmistresses never have boyfriends, so it can’t be that,” Prune proclaimed authoritatively.

“No, probably not, though she definitely said ‘Charles’,” Elizabeth said rather more dubiously.

They lapsed into an odd nervous silence. Elizabeth wondered if her father would use the famous hairbrush, or would it be the cane? There was a cane, an ominously long and flexible one, that was kept for her step-brother Ron, who was slightly younger than Prune, though like the hairbrush it had never actually been used, for Ron was a thoroughly nice, well behaved boy. She lapsed into her day dream. Why was the girl in the shift walking along that awful grey corridor to her execution? She would have to work that out if she wrote this novel, and would she escape her fate, or would it be all terribly tragic?

“She has stopped yelling,” said Prune.

“Oh well, for what we are about to receive,” Elizabeth said, wondering if she was supposed to walk back in when the door opened.

The door indeed opened, and since she was not actually forbidden to come back in, Elizabeth followed her step-sister. She noticed a long thin rattan cane with a crook handle was lying on the headmistress’s desk and the butterflies returned on a large scale, even though it was almost certainly Prune who was going to get it.

“Elizabeth Marsh, I would have thought you had the sense to stay outside without being told. Now, get back out of the door with you,” Miss Levitt was saying with considerable exasperation.

“Please, Miss Levitt, can I just say something,” Elizabeth said desperately, and added without waiting for a reply, “You see, Miss Levitt, I was cold, and I bought the cigarettes to warm me up. Prune said, quite rightly, I should not be doing it. She hates smoking, Miss Levitt. If you cane her it will be terribly unfair.”

“Elizabeth Marsh,” came the angry reply. “You have always had a certain imagination, and I suppose I should compliment you on the sheer scale of your lies to shield your step-sister from a very well-deserved punishment. However, I know the pair of you too well, and it is not going to have the least effect on me. Go and stand outside the door. We will talk about whether it is too late for you to go home tonight in a minute.”

“But Miss Levitt!” said Elizabeth.

“One more word, young lady, and your bare bottom will taste rattan before you go home. Now get out of the door.”

Elizabeth fled.

She stood there, feeling terrified for Prune. Then, after what sounded like a few well-chosen words, she had to listen to the noise of Prune’s caning, which she found deeply distressing. She could just about hear what she thought were the strokes of the cane, though they were not that loud. Prune really yelled, not once, but six times, and each time Elizabeth felt it as if it was her own punishment. And then Prune was staggering out of the door, looking like a wet rag, with the tears rolling, saying she had never known anything could hurt so much. Elizabeth so wished she could have rubbed cream on for her step-sister again, but now she had to face her own interview with the headmistress.


It was just before lunchtime the next day. Elizabeth had made a terribly distressed journey home, had been met with very little sympathy, and now she was standing before her father and her stepmother, Alice, in her father’s study. Rather like a court martial, she thought wryly. And while she had always got on well with her father, there was a slight tension between her and Alice. It was not that Alice was always mean, or even very mean occasionally, but there was always a hint of it.

“I just cannot believe that she could manage to get my poor daughter into such trouble,” Alice was saying. “And why she was not caned as well, I have no idea. Just sending her home, it is ridiculous. She needs a jolly good thrashing.”

Elizabeth knew her father well enough to know that he usually did what his wife wanted, but she could also tell that he was not entirely happy with the suggestion. Would he do it, or wouldn’t he? She felt oddly detached. The girl in her novel would have to be sentenced to whatever she was sentenced to. Perhaps it could be a bit like this?

“I agree she ought to have the cane. Six of the best like Prune, since she managed to land her step-sister with that,” Father was saying. “I suppose you’d like to do it, would you, Alice?”

Being beaten by your stepmother! As bad as Cinderella, Elizabeth thought, though actually Alice was not normally that bad, and she had got Alice’s daughter into dreadful trouble, even though it really was not her fault, which she had already tried explaining in some detail.

“I’d love to, but you have a stronger arm, my dear, and she will probably need to be held, which I will do with pleasure,” Alice said, still sounding extremely angry.

“I caned boys when I was a prefect, so I suppose I know what I am doing. I don’t suppose you had it, Alice?”

“Actually I did, twice, on my hands, which is not to be recommended,” said Alice briskly.

“Get her ready for her punishment, would you?” Father was saying, strolling off into the corner to get the cane out of the umbrella stand.

“Right, my girl,” said Alice with a certain glee. “This has been coming for a long time. Just vest and knickers, my girl. And take your shoes and stockings off; the suspenders will only get in the way.”

Elizabeth complied very shakily, terrified she would say the wrong thing and get an even worse punishment. She was no longer in school uniform, so she had to remove her dress and petticoat and then fiddle with her rather adult suspenders and stockings and shoes, perching on the edge of the settee. At least she had more than half-expected this to happen, and she had put on a solid pair of woollen knickers, though they did not quite cover the top of her thighs or the very lowest bit of her buttocks, which worried her. If her fear of being caned on her bare bottom actually happened, it would not make much difference, she decided.

Father was standing in front of her, long flexible cane in hand.

‘Her first sight of the axe!’ Elizabeth thought, deciding at least one of her characters was going to be beheaded. At least it gave her something to think about.

“Stand up, walk to the end of the couch and bend over it,” Father told her.

‘The couple of steps to the block seemed to last for ever,’ Elizabeth thought to herself.

She bent over the end of the couch and felt her knickers tighten uncomfortably, while the end of the couch pushed into her stomach. Rather to her annoyance, Alice sat down on the couch and took a very firm grip on her hands. She could feel her step mother’s nails. Did you get held down over the block to be beheaded, she wondered, which was an interesting point for the novel, if it ever got written.

“Right, let’s get it over with,” Father said almost wearily. “Elizabeth, this really is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you. At least once it is over the whole matter will be forgotten, won’t it Alice?”

“Oh yes,” said Alice after a brief pause. “Yes Elizabeth, it will all be forgotten.”

It must be said her step-daughter felt sceptical about this.

Elizabeth tried to brace herself and failed. If the truth be known, she started to weep before the first stroke hit her. When it descended, it went through her knickers into the lower part of her bottom rather as if she really had nothing on. She yelped and wriggled, and if Alice had not had such a firm grip on her hands she would have pushed them back over her bottom.

The second and third hit in rapid succession in much the same area and she heard her father saying, “For goodness sake, Elizabeth, stop making such a fuss and wriggling so. If you don’t watch it you will get extra for making a fuss. Keep your legs still.”

“Or you could take her knickers down,” Alice said, more than a touch maliciously and frightening Alice, who thought it hurt quite enough with knickers on.

“Sorry!” said Elizabeth, and she tried to comply, but found it impossible as the fourth stroke hit the bare top of her thighs and she shrieked just like she had heard Prune do.

“She just keeps kicking her legs,” said Father. “It makes it quite hard to do.”

“You had better stand more to the side of her. You will get a better shot at her backside there,” Alice said, clearly annoyed at the amount of fuss her step-daughter was making.

There was a brief pause as Father followed this advice and repositioned himself, during which time it dawned on the victim just how much she was hurting. Two ferocious whacks followed into the middle of Elizabeth’s buttocks, and she really howled. And then two more followed for making a fuss, which she had not really expected. She felt she was on another planet, where everything was pain.

She felt Alice let her hands go, and vaguely noticed that the two adults had left the room. She lay across the end of the settee, clutching her bottom for quite some while as it throbbed incredibly.


Three weeks later, and Prune was home from school.

“Do you want to see my marks?” said Prune. “They are still just about there.”

“Of course!” said Elizabeth sardonically. “I expect you will want to see mine at the same time, won’t you?”

“Of course!” said Prune. “Though it was a bit mean of the parents to cane you on top of being expelled.”

“I was almost relieved,” said her step-sister. “I felt so guilty about you getting it and me not getting it. Besides, it was an experience.”

“You sound as if you almost enjoyed it,” Prune said mischievously.

“Not exactly! It was grim and, just for a second, when dad got really mad about my kicking too much, I was more scared than I have ever been in my life. But it was odd. After all the pain had gone, it felt rather nice. Not that I would like to go through it again. And about an hour after the dreadful event, Alice suddenly went all kind and forgiving and put some cream on for me. It made me realize why you like me doing that.”

“That’s what I have felt sometimes too, not that I would exactly go out of my way to get it,” Prune said very ambiguously.

“Anyway, you will never guess what’s happened,” Elizabeth continued. “I have written most of a novel since I came home. I wonder if I can finish it before I have to go to secretarial college.”

“I bet it’s good,” said Prune. “Your stories are always interesting, but a novel is quite something, and if you've written one then you can write another. Sooner or later, you will be a published author.”

“Anyway, Alice is being so nice to me. I think she is a bit guilty about the caning, but we are both finding out all sorts about each other we never knew before,” Elizabeth went on.

“That makes a change!” Prune observed. “Let’s hope it lasts.”

The End

© Jane Fairweather 2022