Measuring Up

September 8, 1896
Edith Bowen

I was enjoying the solitude of my private desk for the purpose of studying when there was a quiet knock on my door. I was not certain it was a knock at first. I stopped what I was doing and looked toward the door, wondering if I should get up and look in the hallway. Then it came again.

“Come in.” I said.

The door squeaked open to reveal Caroline Birchwood. She stood still in the doorway looking more than a little uncomfortable. Memories of Charles and I while she was away flashed into my vision. Was she here to confront me? Somewhere I found the courage to confront the possibility and accept whatever wrath might fall upon me.

“Come in, Caroline.” I said again.

She stepped into the room, but stayed a distance from me. She was trembling slightly and I briefly imagined her hands wrapped around my neck while she screamed at me. It is no more than I deserve. She did nothing of the sort though. After a moment she lifted a trembling hand toward me and held out an envelope. Needless to say it was not what I expected.

I took the envelope and looked at her with curiosity.

“What is this?” I asked.

“It is from Mr. Bard. He said I should bring it to you.” Caroline said.

She looked at the floor while she spoke and bit at her lower lip at the conclusion of her response. Realization dawned upon me. Caroline was not here to confront me, she was here in front of me for discipline. No wonder she was uncomfortable, I felt a twinge of it myself.

“What happened?” I asked without opening the sealed envelope.

I decided I wanted to hear it from her first and then see if the contents matched. It would be appropriate for any student, a test of their honesty and ability to accept and repent for their behavior.

“I’m sure it is all in his letter.” She said.

“Of course, but I asked you to tell me.”

She sighed, clearly uncomfortable with answering to me like a child, but that was indeed our respective positions.

“I disagreed with Mr. Bard’s lecture and interrupted him multiple times with corrections from the textbook.” She said.

“I see. Anything more?”

“I probably could have been more respectful in my choice of words and tone of voice.” She said.
She never looked up from the floor, but I could tell her face was flushed with embarrassment. I nodded.

“I see.”

I carefully opened the envelope. The note inside corroborated her confession and mentioned as well that she had been given a total of three warnings to cease her rude behavior. Clearly she had persisted beyond them and Mr. Bard had felt incapable of sufficiently dealing with her in the classroom. Therefore it had fallen upon me to correct the problem despite the unusual circumstances of Caroline’s housing arrangement on campus which normally leaves her outside of my authority.

“Mr. Birchwood will not be happy about this.” I said.

“I know he will surely deal with me quite severely. Perhaps you could leave it all to him?”

She glanced up at me with a glimmer of hope and mischief in her eyes. I gave her a wry smile in response. Part of me wished to do as she asked but the rest of me understood I had a larger responsibility to the school and no matter my personal feelings, it was my duty to discipline the woman before me and to do so in a strong enough manner that she would not soon contemplate a repeat performance of her childish behavior. The hope faded from her eyes and she looked at the floor again.

“I do not want to do this Caroline, but you have seen to it I have no choice. Remove your dress and lay it on the bed.” I said.

Caroline did not move for a long moment. I began to wonder if I would have to repeat myself more forcefully but then she nodded her head in acceptance. I was relieved but I did my best not to let her know it. She moved to close the door to my room.

“Leave it.” I said.

I knew it was cruel but there is no nice way to discipline. Besides, I know firsthand that a little embarrassment goes a long ways toward teaching a memorable lesson. She looked at me in disbelief for a moment and I thought she might argue but she did not. She stepped a little closer to my bed and slowly undid the buttons of her dress. She paused from time to time in hopes I might not have meant it but in the end she and I both found that I had meant it and I was not changing my mind.

Standing before me in her slip and underclothes she shivered as though naked. I can appreciate the feeling from having been her place many times, on many occasions not to different than one she faced. The largest difference being I had never been before a younger woman with not only the authority to discipline me but the moral obligation to do so. It was in that way uncomfortable for us both.

Adding to my difficulty was the squeaky voice in the back of my head, screaming about how this woman had as much right if not more to punish me for my betrayal of her. Guilt is a dangerous thing, especially when there exists no clear way to release yourself from it. Should I be gently with her in hopes she may someday return the favor? No, that is not the way of things and it serves nothing but guilt itself, compounding the problem. Justice must be served in its full dosage or the guilt will not be cleansed. I chose the cleansing for us both whether I had the right to do so or not remains unclear but it was the only choice I could truly make.

I stood up from desk chair and pulled and turned it around from the desk so that the seat faced the center of my room. Caroline watched me with the morbid interest of the condemned. My heart sympathized with her until I hardened it to do what I must.

“Bend over and place your hands on the seat of the chair.” I instructed.

My voice was surprisingly calm and stern. Caroline did not look at me but complied without a word. Her feet seemed unable to remain still and shifted forward and back, side to side, like those of a nervous and naughty girl half her age.

“Stand still.” I ordered.

She obeyed. I could see her lip trembling from the side where I stood. I moved to my desk doing my best to ignore the display. I opened the top drawer and removed a wooden ruler of 12 inches. It was small but thick. It would measure up to the task at hand well enough. I swung it in the air into my open palm. Caroline jumped at the crack of impact.

“I think an even dozen will do. Don’t you?” I said.

Caroline nodded her head. I considered making her speak for a moment before deciding it was not necessary. In point of fact, Caroline had said more than enough all ready, which was why she was bent over in my room about to be spanked.

I swung the ruler with measured strength. It impacted the center of her bottom with a flat thud. I had swung too hard and the effect was lacking. Less rigid strokes with more speed and less strength would produce the stinging sensation I was aiming for. I knew this and yet still my first stroke was not what it was intended to be. Oh well, practice will make perfect.

I swung again and was rewarded by a louder snapping sound and a gasp from Caroline. My first stroke had lowered her guard some and the second caught her unprepared. There was perhaps an advantage to not getting every stroke just right.

I settled into a rhythm. Swinging and then waiting several seconds for the sting to build upon itself. Caroline was excellent at letting me know when it was time for the next stroke. Her bottom would tense and wiggle as the discomfort grew and then as it began to settle in she would relax again, and then I would swing. I wonder if she was as aware of the pattern from her position or if it was something she was in the wrong position to appreciate. I have never notice such a thing while being spanked myself but it could be that my method is unique. Doubtful though, how could someone in my position fail to recognize the signs?

Caroline nearly jumped up on the last stroke. I aimed it low, at the crease between buttocks and thighs. In my personal experience that is always the most painful and also the longest reminder. The last should always be the worst and the most memorable. It is in this way that the lesson being taught is best learned. It is not pleasant to receive but it is effective.

I left her bent over my chair and moved back to the desk. I put the ruler away and then wrote a short note to Mr. Bard. He would no doubt want confirmation that she had been dealt with. I was conflicted about sending her to sit on a stool in the main hall or simply sending her home. In the end I favored sending her home. It was both kinder and crueler when one considers Charles Birchwood.

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