April 4, 1896 - Elizabeth Bassett's Diary

Since my weekend escapade of drunken delight, my roommates seem to be at a loss for words. This morning was particularly prickly. I was finishing getting dressed when Lucy returned from her bath. Penelope was still waiting her turn and Jenny had already gone down to help prepare breakfast.

“Can you help me with this?” I asked, referring to the buttons on the back of my dress.

Silence.

More silence.

Awkward silence.

And yes, more awkward silence.

Lucy left the room without a word or a glance. No, doubt I have contracted leprosy from my night at the tavern. I must also be deaf and mute.

I struggled through and did myself up with no help at all. As I was about to leave Penelope returned.

“Good morning.” I said.

“Humph.” I think she said. Maybe she did not actually say anything at all and I only imagined the noise.

I started to walk out and then she spoke.

“Wait, Lizzie. We need to talk about something.”

“If we needed to talk about something I think I would know.”

“True enough. I need to talk to you.”

“Awful conveniet of you to talk only when you need something.”

“Stop acting like a spoiled brat and listen.”

I stared at her for a moment. I think I was shocked she of all people felt bold enough to say such a thing to anyone else let alone me. When it faded, I turned my back and walked out.

“Lizzie!” she called out after me.

I rushed down the hall pushing my way past the other girls waiting for the bath. It was all I could do to keep the tears from falling from my eyes. At the foot of the stairs I ran into Edith. I glanced behind me just long enough to see Penelope had turned back and was disappearing into our room.


I do not know Edith well. We have passed in the hall many times and talked about politics and science on the rare occasion. I am a little bit afraid of her but not because she has ever been mean to me. It is something about her demeanor which reminds strongly of Mrs. Carrington and perhaps a little of my school teacher back home.
“Are you all right?” She asked.

“Fine.” I said unconvincingly.

I turned away from her and took the first step down the stairs.

“Oh no, dear! Wait. Your fasteners are in a mess.”

I paused and looked back at her.

“Here, let me help.” She said and reached out for me.

Her hands felt gently and supportive as she fixed my buttons. My dress suddenly felt like it fit again. Her small bit of kindness was all it took. I started to weep.

She guided me through my tears to her room and sat me down on a bunk. She did not pressure me with questions or task me to compose myself. Instead she wrapped a supportive arm around me. She sat quiet and waited for the mood to pass from me.

When my sobs fled, she helped me wipe my eyes and recompose myself to face the day. I have spent most of my year here at Primrose assuming there was no one who really cared and no one whom I could call a friend. Yet, here was Edith acting as a friend and not expecting a thing in return. Just a friendly face in a crowd. I hugged her.

“Thank you.” I said as we prepared to go downstairs.

She smiled supportively at me.

“If you ever want to talk about it, you can trust me.” She said.

“Maybe another time.” I replied.

Edith nodded.

We arrived at breakfast together. Penelope looked daggers at me from across the table. I smiled at her instead. I decided right then that I would simply refuse to care what her or Lucy or Jenny think of me.
After breakfast, Mrs. Carrington asked Edith and I to her den. A bit nervous, I followed a confident Edith inside and stood in front of Mrs. Carrington’s desk waiting. Mrs. Carrington was not long. She closed the door behind her as she entered.

“Dresses off girls.” She ordered and made her way to the back corner of the room.

“If I may explain our tardiness…” Edith began.

“You may not. I do not play favorites in this house, Dresses off and if I have to tell you again we will relocate to the main hall.”

Edith and I removed our dresses quickly and quietly. We laid them carefully on the desk and waited further instructions.

Mrs. Carrington had a produced the birch rod from her collection. I have only had it once before from her and it was a most unpleasant experience. Edith seemed very calmed but I was unable to keep my agitation internal. I was shaking as I waited for what was next.

“Edith, you know the position by now.”

Edith nodded slightly and then moved to the middle of the room where a simple stool stood waiting. She leaned herself over it and grasped one of its legs for support.

Mrs. Carrington wasted no time. She lifted Edith’s dressing gown and parted her bloomers, exposing her bare cheeks to the room. The birch raised high and then fell with a whoosh through the air.

Edith jerked when it hit but she remained silent and in position. Again the birch fell and again Edith did not cry out. And so it continued for another six, but on the next she cried out.

Mrs. Carrington seemed to have been waiting for the response. Her pace quickened and the birch fell twice as quickly from then on. Edith sobbed and cried but did not ask for mercy, only forgiveness. At last, Mrs. Carrington gave it and Edith was allowed to shakily rise from the stool.

Shamefully, I wish her punishment had not ended so soon. I was content to watch her suffer as long as it did not end and mark the time for my turn to begin.

“Elizabeth.” Mrs. Carrington said, expecting me to cooperate without further prompting.

“Please no. It will not happen again.” I begged.

“Over the stool this instant or you will be very sorry!”

I was already in tears. I forced myself to move toward the stool. My legs were leaden. The room seemed to be spinning slightly and I felt hot like standing by a fire in the middle of summer. I nearly tipped the stool over in my clumsy, detached attempt to lean over it. Mrs. Carrington steadied it just in time.

I felt the cool morning air kiss my bare skin as my dressing gown and bloomers were arranged to match Edith’s of only moments ago. I was in a daze waiting for the first horrible lash to fall on me. It seemed an eternity had passed before it fell.

Unlike Edith, I cried from the start. Each wicked blow evoked a higher pitch of desperation.

“Please!”

Swoosh!

“No!”

Swoosh!

“More!”

Swoosh!

“Please!"

Swoosh!

“It hurts!”

Swoosh!

“Never!”

Swoosh!

“Happen!”

Swoosh!

“Again!”

From there I fell into hysterics. I cried and shrieked. Mrs. Carrington must have given me double what she had given Edith. When she finally stopped I laid still and exhausted. The very thought of trying to sit through classes in less than a hour seemed a torture in itself.
Edith helped pull me upright at Mrs. Carrington’s beckoning. The birch was put away but Mrs. Carrington was not through with us.

“You can each spend twenty minutes on a stool in the main hall.” She said.

“Yes, ma’am.” We replied in near unison.

Mrs. Carrington then produced two dunce caps from behind her desk. She handed us each one and sent us to our stools. The twenty minutes passed slowly as every girl in the dorm passed us by and snickered at us. Lucy and Jenny seemed to find my predicament particularly humorous.

5 comments:

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Anonymous said...

I must say I felt myself transported back into the grand days of romantic but harsh discipline. A swooshingly good job, Miss!
Mr R Fane