One For All

January 30, 1897
Sarah Waters

“May I have your attention, young ladies.” Mr. Carrington said.

Breakfast was being cleared away, but the dining hall doors were closed, ensuring no one had left early as some girls will do. The room had been filled with chatter and the sense of excitement which seems to have accompanied us on our return to school. I was keeping quiet even though several girls attempted to bring me into their conversations. My run-in with Mr. Bard earlier in the week had dampened my taste for gossip.

The room fell silent in pockets as each table came to the realization we were being addressed as a group. Ordinarily, I give little thought and less attention to the Carrington’s, but something drew my eye to Mrs. Carrington. She was sitting quietly with a stern look on her face. It all seemed typical enough until I noticed her eyes. They were red, as though she had been crying.

“Quiet down.” Mr. Carrington said.

The room was already quiet and he knew it. The man was always puffed up in his own importance. Some find it appealing in a man. I find it annoying. I had childish visions of sticking my tongue out at him for no other reason than to distract him from his purpose. Perhaps I should have tried, but the moment passed and the opportunity was lost.

“The young ladies of this house are always expected to represent themselves and this house with pride and dignity. Those who fall short in this task have always been disciplined and will always be disciplined. You and your parents accepted and agreed to these terms before you ever arrived here.” Mr. Carrington said.

He looked around the room, his gaze seeming to single out particular girls for a moment, bring each into his spotlight. In the moment his eyes locked with mine, I knew it was not for praise that he singled some out.

“I have not often been disappointed in the young ladies of this house. However, in recent days it as been brought to my attention, not all the young ladies in this house have been meeting this standard of behavior. It appears some of you have brought the frivolity of your holidays back with you to school. This is not appropriate and the accompanying behavior is not appropriate.” Mr. Carrington continued.

The atmosphere in the room turned from relaxed to tense. Girls shifted in their seats. Some were nervous, having guessed where Mr. Carrington’s speech was heading. Others were angry having sensed the deeper meaning in his spoken words; you are not meant to be happy. I understood it all, and was numb for it.

“It is clear to me, I must take steps to rectify this situation before it becomes completely out of control. Therefore, beginning today, any young lady who requires the discipline of the teachers or administrators of Primrose College more than one time in a week will be disciplined further by me on Friday.” Mr. Carrington said.

There was a collective gasp in the room.

“Those unfortunate enough to require my attention, will report themselves to the main hall of the manor in their nightgowns immediately following their final class for the day. They will line up, facing the wall and wait with their skirts raised above their buttocks and I will deal with each of them in turn. Any young lady who does not report as instructed or who attempts to resist her discipline will be subject to expulsion, without exception. For any of you who may be uncertain as to whether you should be reporting to the main hall this afternoon, Mrs. Carrington has a list.” Mr. Carrington said.

“That is not fair.” I said.

My words echoed the consensus of every other girl in the room. The words left my mouth louder than I expected, but it did not change my conviction in their truth.

“The acts of a few poorly behaved girls staining the reputations of all those who reside here, is fair? I think not, Miss Waters.” Mr. Carrington said.

I could feel eyes of every girl in the room on me. What they expected from me I do not know.
“I only meant we should have a knowing opportunity to avoid your discipline. I am certain everyone in this room will take you at your word.” I said.

“I am not so confidant as you, but I am not unwilling to compromise.” He said.

There was a slight smile on his lips and a glint in his eye.

“Compromise?” I asked.

“Yes, I think a single example could serve the purpose. You seem to be so willing to speak for everyone, perhaps you would also be willing to take their place in the hall this afternoon and serve as that example?” Mr. Carrington said.

Too late, I realized he had just maneuvered me into his trap. I could have said no, but I chose to be brave and stupid instead.

“Will you give me your word that no other girl will be discipline for behavior from before today?” I asked.

He nodded.

“You have it.” He said.

“Then we have an accord.” I said.

The day was long from that point on. Many of the girls thanked me, others told me I was insane. My classes were nothing more than a blur as I wondered just what horrors Mr. Carrington had in store for me. When the final bell of the day rang and I descended the steps of Primrose Hall to return to Carrington Manor, Edith, Elizabeth, Anna, and Penelope were waiting for me.

Ws walked in silence, but I could feel their strength and support being offered to me. I considered asking them what I should expect, but decided I would really rather not know. The journey to the manor felt as if it were a walk to the gallows.

I quickly changed into my nightgown and went to the main hall. I raised my skirts and forced myself not to blush. I pressed my nose against the wall and stared at the plaster. I counted things to keep my mind from straying too far; cracks in the paint, ticks of the clock, creaks on the stairs, footsteps in the hall, anything and everything.

At long last, Mr. Carrington grabbed my arm and pulled me into Mrs. Carrington’s private den. I knew my fate was upon me, but I let the fear drift away and faced it with the calm of the sea. I smiled at him as he lifted his heavy strap of leather and pointed it at me. He tried to hide it, but there was a hint of fear in his eyes. I am not so foolish as to believe it was me he was me of who he was afraid. I knew then, there was more to the circumstances than met the casual eye. Strings had been pulled and the puppet was in play.

“Remove you gown.” He said.

I lifted it over my head in a single motion and tossed it to the floor. Naked, I faced him without a hint of shame or embarrassment. There was nothing, but the coldness of the room between us. I did not try to cover myself or hide from his view. I think it shocked him.

“Bend over the desk.” He ordered.

And I did.

He wasted no time. The strap bit down hard into my buttocks, forcing my hips into the edge of desk and causing me to grunt despite my resolve to remain stoic. The burn of the first stroke built to a high and then the second the stroke came slicing down. I gripped the far edge of desk and gritted my teeth through the force of it. The initial pain was nothing to burn building, but there was nothing to be done except to bare it.

The next stroke brought tears to my eyes, but I held them in place. Not a drop would spill I told myself as I lay waiting for the more that would surely come. Through two more strokes I kept my promise. Then the sixth stroke fell on only my right buttock. I screamed and the tears began to fall. The next stroke followed closely and only struck my left cheek. I screamed again. He continued alternating from cheek to cheek until I had fifteen in all.

I lay sobbing on the desk.

Mr. Carrington grabbed my arm roughly and dragged me up. Without a word he pulled me out of the privacy of the den and into the dining hall where all the girls were seated and waiting for dinner to be served. I felt totally, utterly ashamed and I had done nothing, but take responsibility for the actions of others. I shook with the force of my sobs and wished they would all just look away, but they did not, could not, do anything else except stare.

“Take a good look, ladies. This is what will happen to you if your behavior does not improve immediately.” Mr. Carrington said.

There was not a sound in the room but my crying.

“Go and stand against the wall Miss Waters and do not even think about rubbing your bottom.” Mr. Carrington ordered.

Reluctantly, I obeyed.

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