April 10, 1896 - Edith Bowen

“Patience is a virtue.” Mrs. Carrington said to me once.

She had my complete attention at the time. I was face down over a stool and she was standing over me with a birch rod in her hand. It was in my second year at Primrose and I had been annoyed with Nancy Culver, a freshman who was accustomed to being waited on. I had let my temper get the best of me instead of reporting her overly long bath to Mrs. Carrington. I barged in and dragged her out of the bath by her very wet hair. I was a hero to everyone waiting in the hallway but to Mrs. Carrington I was an undisciplined youth in need of a lesson in patience.

Mrs. Carrington should be proud as I have indeed learned that lesson and learned it well. There is no substitute for careful planning and careful planning requires patience. Arranging a meeting with Penelope was far less difficult than arranging the time and place to discipline her. Time was on my side though and I used it.

Mrs. Berry was quite understanding when I said I needed the school house for a tutoring session. She no doubt concluded I was intending to tutor younger children but I made no claim to such and therefore have maintained a clear conscience on the matter.

I approached Penelope before breakfast.

“I have made arrangements for this afternoon.” I whispered.

“Arrangements? For what?”

“For our private session. Meet me on the front steps at 3 o’clock.”

Penelope blinked at me as though in a daze. I wonder if she had allowed herself to believe I would not follow through.

“Unless you have changed your mind. I can still inform Mrs. Carrington…” I continued.

“No. I will be here.” She finally replied.

She turned her back to me and ignored my existence for the remainder of our morning together. There was certainly nothing unusual about that but I did notice she seemed to be unusually fidgety during breakfast. Perhaps it is wishful thinking to believe she was agitated by the prospect of being corrected by me.

I sat with Elizabeth at breakfast. I have been keeping company with her of late. Whatever indiscretions she had been led into by Penelope, she now seemed to have cut herself off from them entirely. I have the sense that the two girls have had a falling out of sorts. At first I wondered if it was over me but if it were I doubt Elizabeth would be speaking with me.

My lessons for the day passed quickly. When you focus your attentions properly it is amazing how well time moves toward a greatly anticipated event. After school, I waited patiently on the steps of Carrington Manor. Penelope was late but I expected as much. Mrs. Carrington approached me briefly while I waited. When I was younger I would have been nervous and suspected her of knowing my plans, but in my time at Primrose I have gained some confidence in myself.

“I thought you were tutoring at the school today?” She asked.

“I will be. I am waiting for Penelope. She has agreed to help today.”

“First Elizabeth and now Penelope, you are not planning on corrupting all my girls are you ?” She smiled.

“Oh no, just the incorrigible ones.”

We both laughed.

“I will see you both at dinner.” Mrs. Carrington said after a moment and went inside.

It was then I finally saw Penelope making her way up the hill toward me. As she neared I could see she was nervous, almost trembling as she walked. I decided not to mention her tardiness.

“Are you ready?” I asked.


“Then let us move along.”

We walked without conversation to the school house. I pondered her decision along the way. I wondered if she regretted it now since her relation with Elizabeth had deteriorated. Why would she continue through with our arrangement when it seemed there was no benefit left for her in keeping the silence? Perhaps guilt, I thought. Maybe she is not as unreachable as she seems.

The school house was deserted. Mrs. Berry’s birch hung in its usual place on the wall at the front of the classroom. The stool rested in the corner with the oversized dunce cap perched atop of it. I wasted no time in getting started.

“You may remove your dress and gown.” I said.

She did not answer but her hands set to work untying and unbuttoning.

I moved the dunce cap to the floor and then dragged the stool to the center of the open area at the front of the room. I watched Penelope slip out of her dress and neatly place it on a student desk. I turned away before she saw me watching. Penelope is beautiful and just watching her gracefully disrobe is an intimidation I could ill-afford for her to notice.

I hardened my resolve and lifted the birch rod in my hand. I swished it through the air a couple of times in practice. I heard Penelope jump a little at the sound behind me and I restrained a smile. I had to keep telling myself this was serious business. This was not a moment of revenge or thrill seeking but a moment of justice.

I turned around at last to see her. She stood naked. Her hands were relaxed at her sides. Her face was impassive. In her shoes (or bare feet as it were) I would have been blushing redder than a polished apple. Penelope’s pale skin showed no signs of embarrassment though. What I would give to have such confidence!

“Over the stool.” I ordered.

I had meant to sound stern and demanding. To my ears I sounded sympathetic and pleading. Fortunately, Penelope complied without hesitation.

I took my aim carefully. I laid the birch softly against her tender flesh, just as I have felt Mrs. Carrington do on so many occasions. I pulled it back and raised it over my head. I took a breath and stiffened my stance.

The classroom door banged open.

I spun around to the door. Penelope did not move. Elizabeth stood there blinking.

“What are you doing here?” I asked slightly breathless.

“I need to speak with Penelope.”

“I think it can wait until we are finished here.”

“Yes, it can.”

Elizabeth closed the door and sat down at a nearby desk. I felt unsure of myself. Did I really want to do this with a witness?

“I can wait outside if you prefer?” She asked sensing my trepidation.

“No, make yourself comfortable.”

I returned my attention to Penelope again. I took careful aim as before. I raised the birch high. I swung it down with all my strength. Penelope remained still and silent. Not even a flinch from the impact. I felt cheated.

I repeated my steps and again gained no satisfaction. I paused for a moment and thought about my experiences on the receiving end. Mrs. Carrington had never seemed to strain to deliver painful blows. She made it seem effortless. I wanted to deliver as stinging of a lesson to Penelope as Mrs. Carrington could do herself. I hypothesized that harder may not translate into more sting.

I aimed again. This time I swung with emphasis on speed instead of strength. Penelope gasped on contact. Satisfaction at last. I swung the birch quickly through the air and kept my grip relaxed allowing the birch to bounce twist as it impacted her bottom. Faster and faster I swung.

Penelope began to cry. She twisted her hips and clenched her buttocks. She stamped her feet but no matter how much it hurt she stayed over the stool and kept her hands locked onto its legs. She did not ask me to stop.

Her bottom turned pink and then red and then little prickles of blood began to appear. Each darker shade of red spurred me on to swing faster until I was exhausted. I had never considered how demanding a chore giving a proper birching was. My respect for Mrs. Carrington doubled.

I hung the birch back in its place. Penelope raised herself shakily from the stool and with Elizabeth’s help she dressed. I moved the stool back to its corner and placed the dunce cap back on its perch. Respectfully, I excused myself from the room to give the girls privacy for their discussion. I can only hope they both learned a lesson from today.

Back at Carrington Manor all seemed normal. There was no hint that anyone other than the three of us knew what had occurred at the school house. Penelope wore her marks well and impressed me with her ability to constrain herself from flinching and moaning even when sitting down.

At dinner, Penelope handed Mrs. Carrington a note. Penelope seemed nervous and Mrs. Carrington looked a touch disappointed. After dinner the two of them disappeared into Mrs. Carrington’s drawing room. No doubt Penelope was due some additional punishment. I wondered briefly what it was she could have done in her classes to be in trouble yet again.

Mrs. Carrington opened her door and looked around the hall for a moment before her eyes locked on me. I recognized the look all too well.

“Edith.” She said. “Get in here and explain yourself.”


♠ace of spades said...

I didn't see that coming actually. Of course the punishment for the offense of sneaking out would need to be a severe one. How odd that Edith thought she wouldn't be found out given that Mrs. Carrington would no doubt need to discipline Penelope for some reason soon. I am also assuming the damage from Penelope's previous punishment was still present as well despite it not being mentioned specifically by Edith. Can't wait to hear how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

A brilliant post. If I may say so, it seems that the authoress knows all about the mysteries of birching - the lapping stroke being the most painful, the likelihood that blood will be drawn, and so on. Can it be that she lived in the era of birching?
Mr Fane