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When I wrote Tessa's
Summer Uniform this past July, I made reference to a school
(set vaguely in Britain) called 'St. Clare'. This imaginary
school for girls has a long history. While I can't say I've
been tempted to write further Tessa stories, I have been tempted
to write a story about the school.
Further notes (don't you just hate it when
writers do this!): while I was in Scotland this summer I went
to two different museums, both of which I'd highly recommend.
One is in Edinburgh, The Museum
of Scotland, which is state-of-the-art great. The other
is the Museum
of Education in Glasgow. This is an amazing place with interactive
rooms set up as 19th and 20th century schoolrooms. What a place
for a party!
Anyway, what both museums had in common were,
behind glass doors, tawses that had at some point been used
in Scottish classrooms. They were very supple and cut from heavy,
thick leather with 2-5 cuts at one end making individual tongues.
Despite the fact tawses were generally used on the palms (yowsers!),
they were generally long enough and heavy enough to need to
be swung with both hands. (!!!)
On a side note, the Museum of Education does
costume tours for children (the kids get to change into gymslips
and everything!) complete with an actor playing the part of
schoolmaster. I mention this because they had posted some of
the letters from children (written one presumes upon their return
to their own schools) and almost all mentioned how
surprised/scared they were when the schoolmaster swung the belt
(tawse) down hard on the desk.
Well, come to think of it, that'd be what
I'd have remembered too.
Mija - hoping you enjoy this far too long
Can't Buy Me Love
Changing schools was always
hard. That's what Tina kept reminding herself. It would get
easier. Hadn't it always?
But St. Clare was different. Not
just in its dark quiet halls, gleaming polished surfaces and
honour code, unchanged, Tina was told, for over a century. No,
there was a deep down sense in the place of tradition
and permanence. Sure, St. Clare was Catholic like the
other schools she'd attended, but all girls and a boarding
school. Most of the other girls had already been at the school
since they were five or six years old. At nine, Tina, with her
braces, glasses and wrong hair (the others in her house all
wore it short but hers was long, almost to her waist) was having
a hard time breaking into the already established cliques. She
pretended it didn't matter and buried her nose in a Nancy Drew
when she wasn't picked on teams at lunch, not included in after-class
jacks or late night jokes. But really, Tina ached with
loneliness. How lonely was she? Poor Tina even missed her brother!
At the end of the third week of her first
term Tina's grandmother came and took her out of school for
a weekend holiday. They had great fun hiking through the local
countryside (her grandmother was one of those hardy women in
sensible shoes who 'walk' on the weekends carrying knapsacks
and Ordnance Survey maps). By the end of the weekend, the girl
was almost her old self and the older woman asked her what had
been the matter - why had Tina seemed so sad? Tina started to
tell about the rejection by her peers, but then laughed it off
and said she just needed to get into the swing of things at
St. Clare. Her grandmother nodded, feeling sad that her own
daughter's selfish need to lead an 'interesting life' had caused
this painful lack of stability in her granddaughter's life.
"You just go out for sport, dear. You'll
make lots of friends on the field."
Tina thought of her lack of skill at lacrosse
and tried to keep a dismal expression off her face as she nodded.
"I'll try, Nana."
The older woman found herself less than eager
to return the girl to school, and lingered over the purchase
of sweets at the village shop. As a consequence a large bag
of treats accompanied Tina back inside the gates of St. Clare.
A hug that was perhaps a bit too long and tight, and then the
girl was left standing on the steps. She hesitated only a second
before she straightened her shoulders and went inside.
Dinner had already started and Tina had no
desire either to eat or to walk into the dining hall late and
watch everybody look up, but nobody move to include her at their
table. Instead she went up to the Gate House bedrooms, had a
quick wash and changed into fresh pyjamas. The sweets, except
for some every-flavour-beans, were secured in her foot locker.
Tina curled up on her bed and was reading, munching on the beans,
when the other girls in her house came up. The noise and bustle
of their getting ready for bed filled the room, making Tina
feel all the more detached and outside. Still, she thought,
one more try.
"Um, my grandmother sent me back with
some sweets. Would you like some?"
Sugar treats were very few and far between
at St. Clare. In fact, the school never provided them, but depended
on parents (and grandparents) to supply such nonessentials.
Tina's offer was greeted with great excitement and she soon
found her treats being passed from hand to hand and herself
included in the night-time chatter. When the bag came back it
was all but empty, but Tina's heart soared at feeling included
for the first time since she'd arrived.
For the next few nights, Tina shared her sweets
with the other girls in Gate House. Several even started hanging
out near her bed and she passed them extras at other times.
She got to know the gossip and felt 'in'. But it couldn't last.
Ration all she could, sooner rather than later the sweets in
her foot locker ran out.
And that was when Tina's mistakes really
started. . . .
Tina felt a tight pain in her
chest as she realized her sugared offerings would have to
cease. The bag was almost empty. But she couldn't bear the
thought of going back to being the Gate House outsider. Her
sleep was restless, and then she hit upon a solution. Miss
Gambrell! The history mistress was younger than the other
teachers and much more soft-hearted. Her methods included
incentives as well as the more traditional punishments. Since
she worked with so many of the younger girls, Miss Gambrell
kept a basket of sweets in her desk. It was huge and deep.
Tina felt sure that a handful or two wouldn't
be missed. It was only for a little while, she reasoned. Until
she could write to her grandmother for more sweets, explaining
she was sharing with the other girls. Taking a handful and tucking
the rustling bunch into her coat pocket was easier than she'd
imagined it would be.
Tina was right. The first time she took a
handful of sweets they weren't missed. Nor were they
the second time. But the basket diminished until the history
mistress noticed the loss.
Looking at each student individually, Miss
Gambrell asked the students if they had dipped into her sweets
basket. All the girls swore they hadn't, Tina included. Still,
the next day, Tina found a note slipped into her history exercise
book. "Please meet me in my office at 3:30."
Reading the note, Tina felt dizzy with fear.
She gripped the edge of her wooden desk so tightly her fingers
turned white. The class went by in a whirr as she mechanically
took notes on Waterloo. For the rest of the day Tina sat numb,
anticipation clenching her stomach. Did Miss Gambrell know,
or just suspect? The other girls, never very attentive, seemed
to sense something was wrong and avoided Tina.
At 2:30 classes ended and most of her form
headed off to games or study hours. But Tina went up to the
dormitory and began to straighten her room and changed from
her day to dress uniform. It was the same red plaid kilt (though
a fresh one of course), a clean white shirt, red knee socks,
oxfords, white knickers, and tie that she wore daily, but also
included a crested red blazer trimmed in black and grey, as
well as a straw boater complete with red ribbon. Tina laid it
out on the bed and stared at it a moment, feeling a sense of
shame wash over her. Then she stripped and put on the fresh
Had she been asked why she changed for her
meeting Tina would not have been able to answer. This was the
uniform she'd arrived in - it made sense to be wearing it on
the afternoon she expected to be expelled. Every pleat was in
place, her collar and tie were straight and she looked every
inch the crisply turned out St. Clare girl at 3:30 when she
knocked on the door of Miss Gambrell's office.
"Come in," said her history mistress.
Tina squared her shoulders and, head held
high, walked into the office.
Miss Gambrell looked up from her marking,
her gaze taking in the change in uniform and the nervous yet
proud bearing of her pupil. She indicated that Tina should sit
down and then stared deeply into her eyes from across the desk.
The girl finally flushed and looked down at the hands clenched
tightly on her lap.
"Christina Whitefield, is there anything
you'd like to tell me?"
Tina swallowed hard, searched and found her
"Then go ahead."
"It - it, it was me who took the sweets
from your desk."
Tina looked up at her teacher as she spoke,
but then down to her own lap in shame.
"You stole from my desk? But I asked
you about this before and you denied it."
"Yes, miss," Tina whispered miserably.
"I see. This is a very serious circumstance,
though I'm glad you've now decided to tell the truth. Nine is
certainly old enough to know the truth from a lie and to know
not to steal."
Tina nodded and blinked back tears.
"Why did you take the sweets? Don't you
get enough to eat here?"
Tina replied with a tortured yes and the truth
of giving the sweets to the other girls so that she'd be included.
Miss Gambrell looked somewhat sympathetic, but replied firmly.
"I understand why you did what you did,
but stealing and lying are always wrong. You know this. I'm
afraid you'll need to come with me, Christina, and we'll have
a talk with the headmaster."
A pang of fear passed through Tina even though
she'd expected nothing less. Obviously she would be dismissed
for this. The rules of the school were clear: stealing and lying
were among the most serious of offenses. She held her head up
and followed Miss Gambrell down the hall, trying to imagine
how she'd explain this to her mother. Her mother, who had never
had any problem making friends or fitting in. Tina's eyes stung
with tears of shame as she thought of her grandmother hearing
of this. Tina's horror at her own actions struck anew with each
When they reached the office Miss Gambrell
told Tina to wait outside, that she'd speak to the headmaster
alone first. Tina nodded and sat on the polished bench outside
the office door. How many other girls before her had sat in
that same seat nervously swinging their legs hardly bore thinking
The time passed slowly, marked for Tina by
the diminishing of her fingernails and the loud tick of the
grandfather clock across the hall from her bench. Yet the deep
voice was unexpected and startling.
"Christina, would you please come in
Tina slowly rose and, heart thudding, entered
the office. She'd barely exchanged 20 words with the headmaster,
the briefest of hellos at her interview and then a welcoming
handshake when her mother had helped her move in. He seemed
even larger than she remembered as he stood behind his desk,
waiting for her to sit down in a seat next to her teacher's.
"Stealing is a very serious matter. Though
Miss Gambrell tells me you confessed without being asked."
"Yes, sir," said Tina, wondering
if her teacher had left out her earlier lie.
"Miss Gambrell has no doubt you regret
your actions. However, in keeping with the serious nature of
your offense you must either be dismissed or punished. Is that
"You mean you won't expel me, sir?"
The headmaster fixed his gaze on Tina with
a look that was stern, but not unkind.
"I'm not sure how much you understand
about St. Clare, Christina, but this school is in many ways
like a family. Pupils who stay here grow attached in the same
way children are to their parents. That's why the building your
dormitory is located in is known as your 'house'. The same teacher
will be your housemistress from the time you enter until you
leave the school. When you do well, you bring credit to yourself
and your house. Likewise when you do poorly you bring disgrace."
Tina looked again to her ragged nails at his
words. Since she hadn't considered staying at St. Clare, she
hadn't considered the effect her actions would have on the girls
she'd come to know. Miss Brightstreet, her house mistress, would
apparently be told as well. She swallowed hard.
"If you stay, you'll take a letter home
today telling your housemistress what you did and all that transpired
this afternoon. She is like your mother while you're here. Do
"Yes, sir." Tina's voice was barely
"So the choice now is yours, Christina.
Will you stay here and be punished? Or shall I call your family
to have you sent home?" As he spoke, the headmaster slid
open a desk drawer and removed something, setting it on the
desk. It was a split strap of leather, folded over. A tawse.
Tina looked at Miss Gambrell. Her teacher
wasn't smiling, but her look was warm. Tina felt sure she could
be forgiven, that Miss Gambrell at least wanted her to stay.
"I want to stay at St. Clare, sir."
The headmaster picked up the tawse, holding
it up where Tina could see it.
"Think carefully, Christina. Part of
your punishment will be twelve strokes with this tawse - a traditional
punishment at St. Clare for stealing."
Tina's eyes were transfixed by the strap.
It was as if it had become the only object in the room. Physical
punishment was something with which she had no experience. Yet
she nodded bravely, squared her shoulders and met the headmaster's
"I want to stay at St. Clare, please,
The headmaster looked at the girl with some
affection, pleased to see her bravery.
"Very well. Remove your hat and blazer
and hang them over there," he said, indicating a row of
hooks by the door. Tina complied and returned to stand before
her chair, uncertain of whether to resume her seat. The headmaster
came around the desk to stand before her, tawse held tightly
in his right hand.
"Hold out your hands, Christina, palms
up. You're not to put them down until I give you permission
or we'll start again. Is that clear?"
Christina's eyes widened and she bit her lip
as she complied, nodding slowly. She watched as the headmaster
raised the strap with both hands so that the tongued end brushed
his shoulder. She swayed just a little on her feet.
"Stealing for any reason is wrong."
The tawse slashed down across both her palms. Tina cried out
in shocked pain and clenched her hands into fists.
"Open your hands, Tina."
The girl tried heroically but couldn't. Her
instinct each time the tawse was raised was to snatch her hands
out of harm's way.
"I'm - I'm sorry, sir!" Tina's voice
quavered as she struggled to control her reactions.
Over Tina's head, the headmaster and Miss
Gambrell looked at each other.
"On her bottom then." Miss Gambrell
pronounced the sentence that was also Tina's salvation for there
was no way the girl could bear the further punishment of her
The headmaster nodded and turned the girl
toward the desk, indicating she should bend across it. Miss
Gambrell raised Tina's skirt high onto her back and slowly and
gently lowered the child's knickers to her knees. This done,
she walked around the desk to take Tina's hot sore hands into
her own, pulling the girl onto her toes and holding her fast.
The headmaster wasted no time.
"So we begin again, Christina. Stealing
for any reason is wrong." The tawse slashed across the
middle of Tina's bottom, pain making her bite her lip and clench
her history mistress's hands tight.
"Yes, sir," she agreed when the
"Friends must be earned, not bought."
The tawse came down twice in quick succession just at the juncture
of her bottom and thighs. Tears trickled from the corners of
the girl's eyes.
"Yes, sir," Tina said, her voice
The headmaster continued the lecture, pausing
and waiting for evidence of the girl's agreement before continuing
the belting. By the sixth stroke Tina was crying, Miss Gambrell's
grasp the only thing keeping her in position as her feet and
legs kicked in a desperate attempt to escape the pain. The headmaster
paused at stroke ten and laid a reassuring hand on the child's
"What lessons have you learned, Christina?"
Tina hiccuped her tears as she tried to form
her thoughts into words.
"To al-ways . . . always be honest."
"And?" he prompted.
"That - that, that I can't make girls
my friends by buying them treats." Tina's voice broke as
she finished and she sobbed gently.
"Good girl, exactly right. You can't
buy friendship. Now you be brave for your last two strokes."
Eleven and twelve were the hardest of all,
leaving the girl's bottom a crimson hue with raised criss-crossing
welts. As soon as the final strokes were delivered the headmaster
turned away and Miss Gambrell released Tina's wrists. He felt
a twinge of regret at the severity of the punishment, but knew
anything less would be no favour to Christina.
Tina lay across the desk, still sobbing. Miss
Gambrell came around and gathered the child to her, helping
her return her skirt and knickers to their proper state. The
mistress let Tina rest her head on her shoulder, comforting
her with gentle pats.
Turning to the headmaster, who was logging
the punishment and writing a note for Tina to take to Miss Brightstreet,
Miss Gambrell made a suggestion.
"Perhaps Christina should be removed
from Gate House and put into another. That way she could start
fresh and make friends properly."
"Change houses? And to which house would
you suggest she be moved?"
"MacIntosh has an extra space just now.
I think Christina could fit in there quite nicely."
"MacIntosh? You want Christina in your
"I think I can give her the extra attention
she appears to need. Assuming she's willing to make the move."
With that Miss Gambrell looked at Tina, whose
crying had stopped as she listened to the conversation. Tina's
heart swelled as she realized that Miss Gambrell not only forgave
her, but liked her. The girl began nodding even before the question
was put to her.
The headmaster nodded his approval, passing
a folded note to Tina.
"I'll leave you to get this sorted, Miss
Gambrell. Christina, this note is for whomever your housemistress
is this evening. I hope next time you speak to me it will be
for much more pleasant reasons."
Tina took the note, her heart still thudding
in happy anticipation while her bottom throbbed and she resisted
the temptation to put both hands under her skirt and rub. Much
as she longed to she felt sure the act would meet with disapproval.
"Yes, sir. And -" the girl paused
a moment, "- and thank you."
He looked up at the girl and smiled gently.
"You're welcome, Christina. I'm sure you'll be a credit
to your new house and your housemistress."
Miss Gambrell took Tina's hand and together
they walked out of the room.
Later that night Tina took her bath and changed
into fresh pyjamas. So much had happened her mind whirled just
thinking about it all! She felt like her life had changed completely
in a matter of just a few hours.
After helping Tina pack up and move her footlocker
from Gate House to MacIntosh, Miss Gambrell had called a house
meeting before supper. There as housemistress she introduced
Tina to the fifteen girls, some older, some younger, whom she
was to live with for the rest of her time at St. Clare. The
other girls were very sweet and had sung the sisterly MacIntosh
House song to Tina three times until, on the fourth, Tina knew
the words and could join her voice with theirs.
Despite having been at the school for almost
a month, most of the faces were new for Tina. Amy, a plump flaxen-haired
girl in the form above her, volunteered to give Tina a tour
and explain to her the rules of MacIntosh House. One of the
first things Amy made it clear to Tina was that because their
house was smaller than the others, everyone had to
play on the field hockey team, no matter how poor their game
was and Tina would be expected to do her part.
Suddenly, for the first time since coming
to St. Clare, Tina found herself with things to do, people to
have dinner with, practices the following afternoons. She glowed
with happiness as she carefully wrote a 'Things to Do' page
in her journal.
As she pulled on her pyjamas though, Tina
remembered the note from the headmaster and Miss Gambrell's
instruction to come to her rooms before going to bed. Putting
on her slippers, Tina padded down the hall to Miss Gambrell's
door. It was open. A gesture from her mistress had her seated
on a low sofa as a girl, Teresa, in her own form, recited her
"Excellent, Teresa. I'm sure your scores
next week will be ones we can all be proud of."
"Yes, miss," said Teresa as she
gathered up her book and, turning, embraced Miss Gambrell before
Miss Gambrell watched Teresa leave and then
closed the door gently but firmly.
"Hello, Christina. Are you comfortable
in your new room?"
"Yes, miss," said Tina softly. "I
like having the bed nearest the window."
"Hmm, let's see if you feel that way
next month when the wind gets colder. But at any rate I'm pleased
that you like it. Are you making friends?"
Tina shifted a bit uncomfortably on the soft
couch. "It's early to tell, miss. But I'm doing it the
proper way this time."
"Good girl. Now I believe you have something
Tina nodded and handed the note to Miss Gambrell.
Even though she knew her mistress was well aware of its contents,
Tina nonetheless felt herself blush, wishing she didn't have
such a shameful reprimand.
"I know you know your actions were wrong.
And I know you'll never repeat them. But in my house I think
of you all as my daughters. And when you bring home a note like
this you can expect a bottom warming. Is that clear?"
Tina's eyes widened at the thought of further
punishment. Her bottom was still so tender from the strapping!
An inadvertent whimper escaped her lips before she could press
them together bravely.
"Now you come over here, Christina."
As though in a dream Tina stood and walked
across to Miss Gambrell, who was seated in a straight-backed
chair in the centre of the room. There were no more words, but
the older woman embraced the girl then gently and slowly lowered
her pyjama bottoms and knickers, finally pulling Tina firmly
over her lap.
As she lay there, slightly dizzy, Tina found
with surprise she wasn't embarrassed. Instead she thought about
how soft and sweet Miss Gambrell was, smelling of talcum and
Lily of the Valley perfume. Tina felt her teacher's legs under
her stomach, the warmth of her body through her clothes. Tina
had no memories of ever being this close to another person.
She found the sensations very comforting despite her impending
"Normally you'd get a slippering or even
a hairbrushing for a note like this. But I know you were punished
very thoroughly this afternoon."
"Yes, miss," Tina agreed. "Thank
With that the housemistress began handspanking
Christina's bottom. Though the smacks were neither many nor
hard, the girl dissolved quickly into tears, overcome by the
day's emotion. Tina neither kicked nor struggled but gave herself
over to deep sobs as the loneliness she'd felt for so long welled
out. Miss Gambrell sensed Tina's opening and held the child
over her lap for long minutes afterward, gently rubbing her
back and replacing her knickers and pyjamas.
Afterwards Tina repeated apologies and cried
into her teacher's chest.
"Hush, child. It's all right. I know
you're a good girl, Christina. We need never speak of this again.
Tomorrow you start fresh."
Upon hearing that, Tina embraced her mistress
still tighter, her heart soaring. She felt clean and new and,
That night, hands and bottom still sore, Tina
slept the sleep of the angels.
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