March 28, 1896 - Edith Bowen's Diary

I have begun reading a new novel this week. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte, written by Mark Twain. I have only read one previous novel by Twain, The Prince and the Pauper. I must confess some disappointment as the humor and satire so wittily written into the latter is wholly absent in the former. The book itself maintains some interest for me although I find it difficult to imagine such a woman could have existed 300 years ago.

The crisp pages of fiction are a relief for me. This week has passed slowly and left me devoid of the opportunity I seek. Were I keen to address matters with Elizabeth, my chore would surely be done. However, Penelope is a sly fox. She slips neatly away from every attempt I have made for a moment of privacy with her. She must be aware or suspecting of my motivation by now. Foolish, Penelope is, but dumb, she is not.

Bored with my new novel, I set it aside and chose to go for a late afternoon stroll. I heard the sounds of maternal discipline as I passed by Mrs. Carrington’s den on my way out. From the sounds of it, I would guess Elizabeth was the recipient. The sound stayed with me as I walked.
My thoughts drifted back to my first year at Primrose College. It was not so long ago in time but I feel as though I am different person now from who I was then. My then narrow view of the world has since been expanded and my reckless attitude has been replaced by one of caution and good sense.

In those days I was not so different from Elizabeth. I spent many hours in Mrs. Carrington’s den. I became familiar with every bit of her maternal discipline. It was through that discipline, those intimate moments of nurturing, all my secrets fell away. My hatred of myself and my life turned to admiration and love. Indeed I learned many lessons in that small room and today I recalled one I had nearly forgotten.

Was it two years past already? I think it was. I had failed to make my bed and keep my belongings stored neatly away. Mrs. Carrington had warned me countless times before. She had finally lost patience or perhaps she had realized I would never learn the lesson the easy way. I was stubborn.

Even when called out I was defiant. It was after dinner and she had invited me to her den. It was not the sort of invitation to be refused, yet I refused it. Rather than go willingly I turned my back and started up the stairs. I was trembling inside but outwardly I maintained an air of nonchalance.

“Miss Edith Bowen.” She had called from the foot of the stairs.

I continued walking as though I had not heard her quiet call.

“Keep walking little girl and I will send Mr. Carrington up after you.”

I stopped in my tracks. I remembered seeing Mr. Carrington deal with a girl once before. He had used a strip of leather to welt her from her back to her knees. Even now I can remember her pleas for mercy and forgiveness.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, set my jaw and turned around on the stairs. Slowly and deliberately I walked down the steps to Mrs. Carrington. I remained silent and kept my eyes locked on hers with every step. She gazed straight back at me, her eyes unblinking.

“You and I are going to have a discussion. It can be right here or it can be in my den. The choice is yours but you will make the choice this instant.” Her voice was steady and stern as she spoke.
I said nothing but walked toward her den. I kept my head up and ignored the gaping stares of my peers.

Mrs. Carrington entered the room behind me and closed the door. I had an image of every girl in the dormitory leaning their ear up against it, straining to hear what was soon to transpire. The thought nearly brought on a fit of laughter.

“We have had this discussion before, Miss Bowen.” Her voice cut through the air behind me.
I turned to face her. Our eyes met and locked. She was unflinching in her stare. I met it and refused to blink. I must have thought I could win the battle at the time.

“What is your excuse this time?” She asked.

The air felt heavy and tense. I was trembling inside but I would be damned before I let her know.

“You’ll have to be more specific. I dunno what you’re talking ‘bout.”

“Perhaps we should start with your language. We do not use colloquialism in this house. If I have to remind you again you will be eating soap for a week. Do I make myself clear, Little Miss?”

I gritted my teeth holding back and unwise retort of the extremely colloquial variety.

“Yes, Mother Carrington.” I replied after a long silence.

She nodded her head but kept her eyes locked into my own. I think it was right in that moment I knew I was not going to win.

“Now I am still waiting for an explanation as to why you are shirking your responsibilities.”

“I am not.”

“Your bed is unmade, your belongings are strewn throughout the room and the house, you failed to set the dinner table, I could go on and on. You might want to reconsider your response.”

I had no call to be angry, everything she had said was true, but I was angry none the less.

“I didn’t,” I took a deep breath before starting again. “I did not have the time today. I am sorry.” My tone was to the contrary.

Mrs. Carrington was far from oblivious. She breathed aggravation.

“You did not have the time?” She mimicked my tone.

“No, ma’am.” At last I could no longer hold her gaze and my eyes turned to the floor.

She knew she was breaking through then. She could have stopped and sent me to do my undone chores. Instead she sensed an opportunity to push on and bring about the understanding was thus far been lacking.

She walked around behind me, saying nothing. The room was silent except for the sounds of our breathing. Her hands were warm when she laid them on my shoulders. It was only a touch but in it was a compassion and a caring I had never before felt. For a single moment all I wanted was to turn and hug her to me and beg her forgiveness. Then her hands began the work of unfastening my dress.

I refused to cry. I felt betrayed but not by Mrs. Carrington. I felt betrayed by myself. I stood perfectly still while her hands worked away at stripping my dress off. I gave no assistance and no resistance. I said nothing.

When she finished her work, she moved to her desk. I could hear her rummaging through a drawer. I tried not to think about what she was looking for but I knew. I closed my eyes and waited. It was not for nearly long enough.

Her hand wrapped around my upper right arm. I was surprised by her gently grip. Her hand was warm and her hold was secure but not rough. She guided me toward a chair.

Mrs. Carrington sat down on it and waited silently. I bit on my lower lip and stood my ground. I knew what she expected but I could not bring myself to do it. She sighed after a moment and then pulled me over her lap.

She rested the ruler on my back. It felt cold through my dressing gown. I fought an urge to shiver.

“I have dealt with the most spoiled and posh girls imaginable and yet not one of them has been as stubborn and prideful as you.”

I know her purpose was not to make me prouder but for just that moment I was.

“I do not care where you are from, what you are accustomed to, in this house you will follow my rules and you will learn this one way or another.”

I stayed quiet although the retort on the tip of my tongue burned unspoken in my thoughts, “They aren’t your rules, they’re your husbands’” Why did I think that difference mattered?

“From this day forward you will make time for your chores or I will make the time for you. Am I understood?”

Could it get worse if I said no? I cannot adequately describe my temptation to find out. I waited a moment too long to respond. I felt the ruler leave my back and an instant later come crashing down on my upturned buttocks. I bit my tongue in an effort to suppress a cry.

“No, I do not understand.” I spouted angrily through pursed lips.

The ruler repeated its assault. I balled my hands into fists and squeezed my eyes shut. I pictured myself walking on the shore, ocean waves crashing loudly in rhythm with the ruler. As a child I learned to hide from the unpleasantness of the present by imagining a better place and making it real.

Mrs. Carrington and her ruler could not reach me on the shore. There would be no tears, no cries of pain, only silence as I basked in warm sunlight. My toes curled in the warm sand. I was alone and it was summer. I was happy.

The barrage of spanks finally ceased. I was disappointed as the sound had been keeping the illusion alive. When it stopped so did the waves and once again I was laying over her lap instead of on the sand. There was stinging pain but it was bearable. I wondered if she were done.

Mrs. Carrington gripped the hem of my dressing gown and pulled it up my body until my bloomers were exposed. She quietly untied them and pulled the material aside, exposing my naked flesh to her. I tried to pretend not to care, but my face burned hot.

“I can see we have a long way to go.” She said.

The waves began to crash down again. This time just as I was settling into the rhythm of my illusion she stopped. I closed my eyelids tight and tried to imagine the scene anyway, but it was hopeless.

“Now would you like to tell me why you are not doing your chores?”

“Since you ask, no.”

The ruler rained down again in a flurry. Only this time, it struck the backs of my legs instead of my bottom. I bit my cheek and struggled to remain silent.

“Why are you not doing your chores?” She asked again, this time punctuating each word with a hard slap of the ruler on the tender flesh of my legs just below the crease of my buttocks.

Tears threatened to spill from my eyes.

“I never had the opportunity!” I shouted.

“We make our own opportunities, Edith. A woman cannot wait for them to come to her.” She replied.

The ruler berated my bottom again driving home the message. I began to cry. It was not the pain of her assault but the truth of her words. I knew the truth of them all too well. I hated the unfairness of them and had hated it all my life.

“I didn’t want to do them! I hate doing them! I hate you! I hate this place!” I shouted, venom in my voice, through sobs.

Mrs. Carrington did not respond. She only continued to spank. My anger at her robbed me of my sanctuary. I kicked and squirmed but she held me tight to her. I cried out in pain and anger. The ruler fell time and again.

I do not know how long it took but eventually I collapsed. Every muscle in my body surrendered. I lay limp on her lap and simply cried. My tears stained her rug. She continued spanking me but the pace slowed again.

“Not so stubborn now are we?” She asked.

“No, ma’am.” I replied through sniffles.

“Are you going to do your chores from now on?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Are you going to give me the respect I deserve in this house?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Are you ever going to use colloquial language in my presence again?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Are you going to wait for opportunities?”

“No, ma’am.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I will make my own opportunities, ma’am.”

“I think we have made some progress tonight.”

“Yes, ma’am. I am sorry for my behavior. I will do better. I promise.”

“I know.”

With that she finally stopped. She rested the ruler on my back again and I laid peacefully in place. Only when she tugged gently at my shoulders did I move. I stood shakily in front of her and she smiled at me. I fell to my knees in front of her and lay my head in her lap, wrapping my arms around her waist. I could no longer deny my need for physical comfort. Her gentle hands stroked my hair and for the first time in my life, I felt loved.

I had learned much that night. I thought I would never forget any of it and yet here I have been all week waiting for an opportunity again. I am a Primrose girl, we do not wait for opportunities, we create them. It is past time I create one to deal with Penelope.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A tremendous interlude. Thank you for making the past, and its values reinforced by corporal punishment, come alive. A fine figure of a woman teaching a young girl the path to virtue.
Mr R Fane