Cleansing The Shame

May 2, 1896
Edith Bowen

Sunrise on a final dawn is a silent event. I awoke early and strolled casually to the shore just in time to watch the first rays of light bounce off the rough ocean waters. Even the birds seemed to chirp less noisily as the raising sun gave birth to a new day. It was as if they too knew as I; the world is about to be forever changed.

Inside Carrington Manor the girls went about their morning routine. Nothing was unusual except the somber tone and quiet hallways. Breakfast was served as normal. The chatter was limited and awkward. Mrs. Carrington seemed stricken by grief and disillusionment. Had a stranger walked in upon us all, he would no doubt have assumed us in mourning for the passing of a dear and close friend. In some sense he would have been correct.

Jennifer Abbott is far from a friend of mine but as a fellow Primrose Girl I am not unsympathetic to her. I do not and cannot condone cheating. I am in fact surprised she would stoop to it. Her carefree attitude in regards to her studies is of no secrecy. What would have driven her to do such a thing and why of Penelope and not Elizabeth? Her continued proclamation of being framed by Penelope only furthers to exasperate the situation.

Were there not physical evidence Jennifer’s guilt beyond all doubt, I would have believed her story. Difficult as it is to admit, I have clearly misjudged Penelope though. Through indiscreet gossip I have learned, Penelope’s strapping at the hands of Mr. Carrington was brought about by none other than her unflinching support of Primrose College and its academic worthiness. I would have never believed her of such opinions by her cavalier attitude and flamboyant flirting. I would have easier believed all the worst of her and so it seems Jennifer Abbott thought all would believe the same.

Miss Abbott may only be a single face in the crowd which is Primrose but her actions have brought shame upon us all. If this college is to survive the strident times ahead, we will need solidarity and irreproachable morality. The poor judgment felt here today may well reflect on generations to come, dashing their hopes and dreams as Jennifer has dashed her own.

In a few hours the Dean will make formal the sentence all ready well known. A formal and public birching carried out in full view of the assembled students of Primrose and Brown alike. Stripped and striped she will stand in disgrace. Expelled, she will walk in shame one final time through the gates, never to be welcome within them again. I would feel compassion were her crime not so despicable. Discipline is not just a punishing act but a cleansing one, and so shall it be today with Miss Abbott’s expulsion, Primrose will be cleansed of her taint, or so I pray.

Every Primrose girl was called forth to witness the scene. We gathered inside Primrose Hall. The room is normally reserved for grand events such as balls. Our voices echoed in an excited murmur. I was shocked to learn by way of listening, there were many who did not know why we were called to assemble.

Dean Steadward took to the stage at the front of the room.

We fell silent.

Electric anticipation pulsed through the air.

Our Dean spoke to us.

“It is my sad duty today to stand before you.”

His eyes traveled over us, seemingly giving each girl a private moment under his gaze.

“In the six years of Primrose College’s tenure, never before have I been ashamed of it. Never before have I met such stubborn resolve to refuse to own up to the truth of one’s own actions. Never before have I seen a student so selfish as to bring shame upon not only herself but on the entirety of their College. Never before.”

He shook his head in sadness.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of overseeing many firsts in relation to Primrose College and its students. I have the utmost respect for those of you who come here to better yourselves and your knowledge. I am proud to be the first Dean to oversee these first times. But, today brings about a first time I am saddened to oversee.

I have had the responsibility to discipline students before. It is never a desired or pleasant task but at times a necessary one. In times of learning it is only natural to find mistakes are made, poor decisions are chosen. This is in its peculiar manner the method of our growth and learning. In this method there exist only love and guidance.

However, when a student crosses the boundaries of ethical behavior; when a student refuses to accept responsibility for their own actions; when a student chooses to cast their shame on those who stand near them; when a student brings irreparable damage to herself and to this institution; I am left with a bitter duty.

The discipline given forth on this stage today is in hopes of somehow guiding this shameful student from her path of self destruction. I take no pride in its application and you will have no pride in witnessing it This is a moment of shame for all of us. Cast down your heads and pray for the grievous, Miss Jennifer Abbott.

Dear Lord. Our father in heaven. Take pity on us this dreadful day. Guide Miss Jennifer Abbott from the sinful shores on which she travels. Give her the courage to face her demons and overcome them, wash her in your mercy and hold her safe in your warmth. Give me the strength to correct her sins. Give me the courage to stand firm. Give us all the wisdom to learn from today and go forth better than we have came.


Bring her forth!”

I glanced at my peers and saw tears in many of their eyes as there existed in my own. A sad day indeed.

The side door to the hall slammed open. Misters Green and Carrington entered with poor Jenny between them. They each had a hold of an arm. Jenny was clothed only in a simple white gown. Her bare feet slid on the smooth wooden floor as the two men dragged her along. She struggled to break free of their grasps.

“No!” She screamed. “I am not guilty! You have to believe me!”

Her words echoed in the hall. Shameful to see a Primrose Girl in such a state, we lowered our heads and looked upon her not.

Jenny was forced upon the stage. A wooden block awaited her. They forced her to kneel upon it. Her body was pushed down and forward, her hands bound in place and then her knees and ankles. Her posterior was pushed out and faced us. Were it not for her cries for mercy, it would have been easy to believe she was wanting of the discipline about to befall her.

Green and Carrington stepped away and disappeared in the shadows. Dean Steadward stepped forward with the largest and thickest birch I have ever seen. Mrs. Carrington stepped forward onto the stage. She looked stricken with grief. I felt for my friend. She lifted the hem of Jenny’s white gown and laid it well up on her back, exposing her naked flesh.

“I would die of shame on the spot.” A girl standing near me hissed to no one in particular.

I nodded in agreement, remembering my own chastisement in Ms. Maples classroom only a week ago. Were it in our power to chose our demise, no doubt it would be at such extreme moments.

Mrs. Carrington stepped back away from Jenny and gave a curt nod to the Dean. He returned it and stepped closer to Jenny. He laid the birch softly against her flesh.

“For the heinous act of fraudulently claiming the work of another as your own, fifteen strokes delivered to bare flesh in the presence of all who have been wounded by your deed.” He said to her but loud enough for all to hear.

Jenny sobbed but said nothing more.

The birch seemed silent. The Dean pulled it back from her flesh and swung it forward at a blurring speed. The only sound as it touched her buttocks was Jenny’s scream of pain.

Sympathy tugged at my heart as he swung the second time. The wooden block creaked as she strained against her bounds. An ear piercing scream reverberated through the room.

The birch rose again.

My heart grew cold as I thought of the damage her actions had done. Jenny screamed again. ‘Shame on her,’ I thought.

The birch was as unforgiving as I.

Jenny screamed.

The wooden block jumped from the floor and slammed back down on it.

“You’ll all burn in Hell!” Jenny cried.

The birch fell on quivering cheeks again.

The girls stood transfixed. The scene was horrible to watch and yet alluring at the same time. We could not tear our eyes away from the stage.

Jenny’s screams and sobs echoed around us.

The birch fell again and again at a measured pace. Her silky white flesh, turned pink and then red. Her smooth buttocks tightened and relaxed in her desperation. Were it not so sad, it would have been humorous.

The fifteenth stroke of birch landed. Jenny screamed as though being murdered.

Dean Steadward turned his back on her to look on us.

“I know this was painful to witness. Justice has been delivered here today for her crimes against all of us. Were she able to face up to her misdeeds and willing to correct them, this would have ended here.

Instead, Miss Jennifer Abbott continues to represent herself as a victim when the evidence proves she is not. She continues in this way to be deceitful and within the confines of this campus there is no room for deceit.

It is therefore my sad duty to chastise her flesh for this as well and then expel her from the grounds.”

He turned back to Jenny.

“Miss Jennifer Abbott, for continued willful deceit, I sentence you to twenty strokes of the birch on your bare flesh. At the conclusion, you will be stripped of your gown and marched naked in shame through the streets of this campus to the gates and expelled through them. Never again will you be welcome within the confines of this campus. You may carry with you the dishonor of being the first and only female student in history to be expelled from this college.”

He fell silent and raised the birch in the air. He swung at the same measured rate of before.

Jennifer Abbott screamed.

Blood began to prickle up on her tortured flesh. Her cries touched us all. Her body shook with the sobs racking her. The wooden block rocked on the floor.

Over and over she screamed for mercy.

The birch was silent and steadfast. Twenty strokes assigned and twenty strokes fell.

The marks on her buttocks would last only a few days but the scars of this day will live on forever in all of us.

The last stroke fell and Misters Green and Carrington undid her binds. Mrs. Carrington pulled her white gown from her body, leaving Jennifer naked to the world. She no longer seemed to care.

The men half carried, half dragged her out of the hall. We all followed. In the streets many young men had gathered and they marched along with us. The crowd remained nearly silent as we marched with her to the front gates.

Once there I could see her cases had been gathered and they sat just outside the gates on the dirt. Misters Green and Carrington pushed her through the gates without traversing through them. She staggered and fell to the ground still sobbing.

Richard, her fiancé stepped forward. He looked angry and sad. She looked up at him, pulled herself to her knees. Her hand reached out to him.

“Richard.” She cried.

He shook his head in disgust. “Your hand is your own again. I do not want it and am forever shamed to have held it for even so brief a time.”

He turned his back and walked away.

“Richard!” She screamed in desperation.

Fresh sobs racked her body. She lay pathetic on the dirt outside of the gates, a Primrose Girl no more.

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