Thursday, 6 January 2011

A peach too many

Story from London Life Vol.1 No.4

A peach too many

Christina selected a peach from the basket and bit rapturously into the succulent flesh. She finished the fruit, licking the sweet juice from her lips, and put the nut into a used envelope. She took another peach and stood for a few moments enhancing the pleasure, while she stared idly through the window watching the children playing in Elmfield Way. Suddenly she stiffened. A battered Ford van slowed and halted opposite the door of number nine. The words FRANK ATKINS, MARKET GARDENER were painted on the sides.

The girl acted quickly. She screwed up the envelope and dropped it into her small waste-paper-bin; then taking two peaches from the basket, she put them, with the one she held, carefully into a sheet of clean paper, which she folded and pushed on to one of her book-shelves. The doorbell rang. Very quietly she carried the basket into her young brother's bedroom and hid it behind a suitcase under his bed. She thought it unlikely that the fruit would be found, but if it was Bobby would be blamed, for he wasn't above scrumping apples. As she crept back into her own bedroom she heard Mr. Atkin's angry west country voice downstairs. When her mother entered her room she was sitting at her small table engrossed in a study of Fowler's Modern English Usage. "Hallo, mum," she said innocently, "who's that shouting the odds downstairs?"

Mrs. Graves face was lined and wan. "You'll be the death of me, Christina! Where are they?"

"Where's what, mum?"

"You know very well, you bad girl! The peaches you stole. Where are they?"

The girl faced her mother with an aggrieved expression. "I didn't steal. I only picked a couple. Well, three. Oh, well, I'm sorry." She took the paper from the bookcase. "Here, the old skinflint can have them back. Tell him I'm sorry and I won't take any more."

Her mother frowned with a helpless expression. "Mr. Atkins says.... Chrissie, you're not being fair. He isn't a skin-flint. This is his living. Where are the rest? How many have you eaten? I want the truth, now."

"That's all. I told you I only picked three, and I haven't eaten any. That isn't stealing!"

The woman hesitated, biting her lip as she stared sadly at her self-satisfied, over-indulged, over-fed, daughter. She had spoiled the child. Was she lying? Christina did tell lies and this was not the first time she'd stolen fruit. "Oh, Chrissie! Of course it is! What am I going to do with you? You'd better come down."

Confronted by the market gardener, Christina was brazen and confident. "I'm sorry, Mr. Atkins, honestly. I only picked three. Look, you can have them back."

"Now you look, young miss! It just ban't good 'nough. Three peaches? A good four pound, ee picked, an' I can't afford to 'ave my fruit stole."

"Calling me a liar, Mr. Atkins?"

"I ban't calling ee nothing. But I knaw 'ow much ee tuk. My own kids ban't 'aving other people's doing it. This've been going on for years. I've warned ee more'n once, miss. This time it's the police."

"No!" cried Mrs. Graves in distress. "Oh, my God! Mr. Atkins, please! Leave Christina to me. I promise you it'll never happen again."

The man grunted. "I don' want to make things bad for you, Mrs. Graves. But this be my bread an' butter, an' I want something done about it. She'm your girl, ma'am, but... well 'er's got to be made to see sense!"

"I'm very, very sorry, Mr. Atkins," Christina said, demurely contrite, "I understand now. I know it was very naughty of me and I'll never do it again, I promise faithfully. You won't go to the police will you? Now I must go and get on with my homework, I'm behind with it." She thought complacently about the basket of luscious peaches. The man wouldn't carry out his threat, she was sure. How could he prove how many she had picked. And she knew she could handle her mother. Turning, she walked slowly up the stairs, emphasizing the movement of her buxom behind.

"Please, Mr. Atkins, there's no need for the police. It'll never happen again. I'll make her mind."

"How?" he asked sceptically. "I've 'ad trouble wi' that girl o' yours for years. Ee knaws that as well as I do, ma'am. I ban't no trouble-maker, but I must be sure 'er'll be punished."

"Punished! Oh, but... she's seventeen, Mr. Atkins. Nigh on eighteen. And she promised faithfully. I'll give her a good talking to."

"That just ban't gud 'nough. I knaws what kids needs. 'Ab'n I brought up four o' me own? Listen, Mrs. Graves. You knaws my Pansy, don' ee? Last yur 'er tuk some o' my best purple grapes. 'Er knawed it were strictly forbidden. Do ee knaw what I did, ma'am?" The woman shook her head helplessly. "I told 'er mum to take she to 'er bedroom an' see 'er got ready for bed. Then I went up wi' my strap. I keeps a leather belt for my youngsters, a thick, 'eavy'n. Poor maid were frightened sick, t'weren't the first time I'd leathered 'er bu... bottom. I made Pansy drop 'er pyjama trousers an' lie across 'er bed, an' I laid on fifteen real good wallops across 'er bare backside. Sorry, ma'am"... seeing the woman's cheeks flush pinkly... "I'm a blunt man. An' mark me, that were dree months after Pansy's eighteenth birthday."

"Oh, my goodness!"

"Ah! 'er cried 'er eyes out an' cudn't 'ardly move." He paused. "Luk, Mrs. Graves. I knaws it ban't for me to tell folks 'ow to bring their children up. But, wi' respect, ma'am, I do think your girl ought to be corrected. An' if you can't do it..."

"Oh dear! All right, Mr. Atkins, I – I'll – well, I will give Christina a good hiding. With a slipper. I haven't a strap."

Mrs. Graves went upstairs again. Standing with eyes meekly lowered, Christina apologised for worrying her mother.

"You don't care how much you worry me! You never did. You're a spoiled, selfish girl! And you eat too much – look at you!" Christina blinked and stared uneasily at the pronounced roundness of her form. It was true, she was fat; she hadn't much waist. "Anyway, I've promised Mr. Atkins I'll punish you."

Christina grinned. "How – no jam for tea?"

"Don't scoff, Christina. I am very angry. I said... well, I told him I'd... well, smack you with a slipper on your bottom. Er..." she gulped. "Bare."

"You what? Oh, mum, don't be ridiculous. I'm not a kid." She laughed. "Spank me with a slipper? At seventeen? That's daft – bare or otherwise!"

"You'll have to let me, Chrissie. I promised."

DAUGHTER: "Well I won't. Anyway, what a silly fuss over three bloody peaches!" MOTHER: "Don't use that language, child. That's all you took?" "Yes. Just three. Honestly." "You swear that? On your honour, Chrissie?" "I swear mummy. On my honour. He's got them back and I'll never do it again."

Poor Mrs. Graves. She was inept, and she knew it. She was only too glad to accept that assurance. She couldn't chastise her grown-up daughter. She never had given the girl a hiding; she'd known she could not keep that promise when she had made it. She loved Chrissie dearly, she didn't want to hurt her. She couldn't anyway, unless Chrissie submitted voluntarily. As for the idea of Mr. Atkins strapping his eighteen year old daughter's uncovered bottom... That was absolutely shocking! After all, she thought, such a fuss over three peaches. She looked at the small table, with text books, reference books, fountain pen, ruled foolscap paper covered with neat handwriting. She was proud of her clever child. Chrissie had made a solemn promise. She was a good girl, really.

Despite the solemn promise, when the girl went out after tea her mother decided to search her room as a salve to her own conscience. Christina anticipated that, but she was unworried. The fruit was safe and the flap was over. Mum had persuaded Mr. Atkins and she had persuaded mum. Spank her bare arse? Mummy must be getting senile!

The spoiled young lady would have felt less complacent had she seen the Ford van turn into the drive of a detached house called The Larches. It was the home of Mrs. Bentley, the large, formidable Deputy Principal of the Comprehensive.

"I be right sorry to bother ee 'bout this, Mrs. Bentley, ma'am. But I'm fair sick of it an' that's a fact. That Mrs. Graves swore 'er'd deal wi' the thieving young madam, an' it'd never 'appen again. But us've 'ad it all before. Nothing'll be done. You must know Christina Graves ma'am." Mrs. Bentley certainly did. The girl was weak-charactered; deceiptful, and had been suspected of pilfering from the school sports fund. "I do sympathise, Mr. Atkins, I will see Christina and give her a severe telling-off."

"Well, ma'am, what I wondered... After all, it's well known as you'm strict at school. I did think maybe a good dose of the cane..."

The Deputy Principal smiled faintly. "I daresay I could. But punishing a senior girl is a serious matter. I would need the headmaster's approval. And – with respect Mr. Atkins, I'm not doubting your word for one moment – there's no proof."

"Well, I knaw 'er took 'bout four pounds but I can't prove that. But there's proof 'er took three peaches – an' it's still stealing."

"True, and Mr. Norman regards stealing as a very serious offence. But as for corporal punishment – well, you know how things are these days. Some people in the county education department are against it. The maximum I am permitted to give a girl is two strokes on each hand. And that only with Mr. Norman's approval. A big, lusty girl getting on for eighteen – she'd laught at it! And girls must not be caned on the seat. More's the pity." And that was all, the man asked? She shrugged. "What else? Mr. Norman considers that suspension is wrong. So do I. There's enough truancy, without locking youngsters out of school! And obviously there could be no question of expulsion. School discipline is difficult these days."

"That's that then, I'm going to the coppers. I know damn' well that mother of 'ers won't do nothing, an' I ban't 'ab'n no more of it!"

"Oh, dear! There'd be such a scandal. Poor Mrs. Graves! And there's the school... Please leave this with me, Mr. Atkins. I am well aware that Mrs. Graves is pretty hopeless, but I'll go and see her. I may be able to persuade her to deal with the girl."

"Deal with 'er?" The man laughed sceptically. "Naughty girl an' don't ee do it again! Well, I'd be glad enough to leave'n in your 'ands for the moment, Mrs. Bentley. But that girl should be severely punished. An' I'd want proof."

Mrs. Graves made a thorough search of Christina's room. There was no more fruit. But she did find something that gave her a very bad shock. She was suddenly violently angry; she found herself actually wishing she could give her deceiptful child a good hiding. Such thoughts upset her, but there was no getting away from it – Christina had flagrantly lied to her. The girl was a thief and untruthful, and she thoroughly deserved a good thrashing. Mrs. Graves was in that frame of mind when Mrs. Bentley rang the door-bell.

Christina let herself into No. nine. Hearing a mutter of voices, she decided to go to her room. Half way up the stairs, she was stopped by her mother's voice, and it sounded oddly confident. "Oh, Chrissie. Come into the sitting-room, please."

The daughter felt a vague feeling of disquiet. She sensed a difference in her mother's manner – could she have taken it into her head to look in Bobby's bedroom? "Oh, mum, I'm tired. I wanted an early night."

"I think you'd better come down. This may be rather a late night for you, my girl."

Christina was suddenly very perturbed. Her mother looked worried, as she always did, hut her tone and attitude were different; she seemed more confident, more decisive. Well, what if she had found the fruit? Bobby had pinched it.

"All right, mum, I'll just slip into the loo, first." Emerging from the toilet, she crept into her brother's room. Bobby was at the youth club. To her intense relief the basket had been undisturbed. She went downstairs, entered the sitting-room – and stopped dead, filled with alarm and dismay. She was furious with her mother. What a dirty, lousy trick! "G-good evening, Mrs. Bentley. Did-did you want to see me? I'd have stayed in if I'd known."

Mrs. Graves experienced an overwhelming feeling of relief. She knew that her spoiled, wayward child was in capable hands. She loved her daughter and hated the thought that she had to suffer. But there was no help for it. Something had to be done.

"I think you know why I'm here, Christina."

"Those bloody peaches!"

"Don't you dare talk to me like that, girl!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't mean..." She turned furiously upon her mother. "Going running to Mrs. Bentley! What a thing to do! All this fuss over three peaches."

"Three, Christina?"

"I gave you my word, didn't I? I swore. On my honour. Maybe you'd like me to swear again, on the bible!" Her mother pointed silently to the table. A crumpled envelope with one sticky peach stone lay there. Christina's heart seemed momentarily to stop; the breath had been knocked out of her. That was something she had completely overlooked. For a minute she stared at the accusing bit. She looked at her mother, then at the school-mistress. She stammered: "Well, so what? It's only one."

Her mother nodded. "One too many, isn't it, Christina?"

The girl bit her lip.

"And what about your honour?"

"Well, I'm sorry, mum. I did take four peaches. I – I said three because I thought, well, I thought it'd look better if Mr. Atkins thought I hadn't eaten any." She looked appealingly at Mrs. Bentley. "After all, ma'am – well, one peach different..."

"Do you expect us to believe you?"

Christina's face turned a deep burning red. "N-no, ma'am," she whispered.

"Mr. Atkins was undoubtedly right when he insisted you'd had four pounds of fruit." She looked compassionately at the mother. Mrs. Graves' lined face was pitifully worried and distressed. "Your mother did not come to me, Christina. Mr. Atkins complained to me because he was reluctant to go to the police. This sort of thing has been going on for years. He has been a long-suffering man, but this time something is going to be done."

The girl pulled herself together. There was nothing very serious to fear. She supposed she would be caned in the morning. She hated the stick, but four whacks on the hands were nothing to worry about. She'd had that more than once from Mrs. Bentley and she knew it was the maximum punishment permitted. Thank goodness she didn't go to St. Margaret's, a local private school to which her mother had once wanted to send her. Sarah, a girl she knew who was a pupil there had once received six on the seat of her knickers. She'd said it had been agonizing. That sort of beating seemed barbarous to Christina; she was heartily thankful it was not allowed at the Comprehensive.

"Mrs. Bentley," she said humbly, "I know I've caused a lot of trouble, and I'm very sorry. It's simply that – well, I didn't think of it as stealing. After all, a lot of young kids do a bit of scrumping."

"You know perfectly well this is different from taking a few apples. Systematic pilfering of expensive fruit from a professional grower is a very serious offence, my child."

"I am sorry, ma'am. Honestly. But it's finished. I promised mum faithfully I'd never do it again."

Mrs. Bentley shook her head, grim-mouthed. "You've said it all before, girl, and you've been allowed to get away with it for far too long. Now you really are in trouble."

"Where is the rest of the fruit, Christina?" her mother asked. "It's no use trying to lie any more."

Christina hung her head. "It's under Bobby's bed, mum."

"So if I'd found it you'd have let me blame him!" Blushing crimson, the girl tried to deny any such intention, but she could not get the words out; her guilt was clear. "Oh, my God! You little bitch! You'd be willing to get your own brother into trouble!" The girl quailed, her mother had never been so angry. Her face was red, and her eyes, usually a weary blue, were shooting blue sparks. "You thieving, lying, cowardly little wretch!"

"Oh, mummy...!" Christina was aghast.

"It's true. Mrs. Bentley has told me that every teacher in the school knows what a damn' little liar you are! And you would put the blame on your own brother! You richly deserve what you are going to get from Mrs. Bentley. Deceiptful hussey! I am ashamed to think you are my daughter!"

Mrs. Graves dropped into an armchair. She knew she was weak. She's pampered her daughter, spoiled her, threatened and done nothing. Now, at last, Christina had to pay the penalty. So did she – having to watch the chastisement would be torment enough for her. "Oh, Chrissie, Chrissie! You're a bad girl! Mrs. Bentley should give you the cane more at school." Finding that discarded peach stone had hit the unfortunate woman badly, had brought home to her just what a brazen liar the girl was; the added knowledge that Christina had been prepared to make Bobby the scapegoat – which was possible, because he was no angel! – was like a knife inside her. Had it not been for those two facts, she would never have dreamed of permitting the pain, humiliation and embarrassment, that her daughter had to suffer, and which she had to witness.

The culprit was worried and apprehensive. She feared a caning, Mrs. Bentley was a hefty woman and she would use her strength. Yet – two on each hand. That was nothing. Four on the same hand would be worse, but that was not permitted. For a young woman getting on for eighteen, almost certainly destined for university, it would be more humiliating than painful.

"Now, young lady, listen to me." Mrs. Bentley's face was bleak, her voice grim. "You have caused your poor mother a great deal of worry. She has agreed – reluctantly, she is very unhappy about it – that I may deal with you. If you continue as you are, you will find yourself in the magistrates' court and probably a special school." That threat produced an unpleasant twinge in the girl's belly. "Your mother hopes, as I do very sincerely, that severe punishment now may help to change your ways before it is too late."

Christina decided to play the remorseful penitent. Standing with bowed head and hands clasped demurely before her, she said: "Yes, ma'am, I hope you will cane me very hard at school in the morning. I deserve it." Mrs. Graves marvelled. Never had she seen her delinquent child so meek!

"You may be assured of that, my girl. I intend to cane you very severely indeed. But it will not be at school tomorrow. It will be at my home. This evening."

The girl's head jerked up in alarm. '''Y-your home, ma'am?"

"Yes, Christina. You and your mother are coming with me now, in my car. I intend to administer a very severe whipping."

"Wh-whipping, ma'am?" Christina's heart was thudding, her voice weak.

"A thorough thrashing on your bare seat, with a cane. I have borrowed one from school."

The girl gaped for a moment in almost dazed consternation. Then she burst out: "No! You-you can't! You're not allowed to, you know you're not! And I won't bloody take it, anyway! Oh, gosh!" She shrank before the mistress's blazing eyes. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I shouldn't have said that. I – I don't mean to be disrespectful. But I thought..."

"I know what you thought. And you're wrong. This will not be school discipline. I am going to thrash you at the request of your mother. You do, of course, have the right to refuse."

GIRL: "How – how many strokes, Ma'am?" MISTRESS: "Fifteen, Christina." "Fifteen! On my-my bare bottom?" "Yes." "Oh, God, no! I do refuse, ma'am."

"Then Mr. Atkins will go to the police. And whatever the magistrates do with you, it will mean expulsion from the school. You know how strongly Mr. Norman feels about the school's reputation."

"But that – that would ruin my career! My whole life!" Her voice was unsteady and a little hoarse.

"A university place is a certainty for you, Christina. But not if you are expelled from school..." The woman paused, grim-faced. "No schoolteacher wants to ruin the career of a very promising student."

The Deputy Principal was bluffing; no sixth-former destined for university would be expelled for the sake of a few peaches. And she was very unsure about her right to inflict a Draconian flogging – she knew what the views of certain members of the education committee would be. The girl sank into a chair, put her face into her hands, and wept. Then she appealed to her mother. How could her mother do such a thing to her. Did her mother want to see her whole life ruined because of a bit of bloody fruit? And she'd die if she were beaten like that. "You've brought it on yourself, you wicked girl!" Mrs. Graves burst into tears.

It is questionable whether a convicted felon riding in a cart from Newgate to Tyburn felt worse than did Christina during her short car ride. Her thoughts were a feverish jumble. She was terror-stricken. She felt a little sick. She was convinced that any punishment on the bottom must be sheer agony. But – fifteen!

Fifteen awful wallops on her bare skin...! Sarah hadn't had more than six, over her knickers, and that had been awful. The distressed girl had always accepted the fact that she was a coward, terrified of pain; and she had ever been complacent when committing some misdeed because of the knowledge that her mother would not beat her and she could not get much at school. Now that complacency had been brutally kicked from under her – as though she had a rope around her neck and the trap had been sprung. She couldn't believe it. On her bare behind! Oh, God, no! It simply could not happen to her. And inflicted by the powerful Deputy Principal... And it was an additional wrench to find that she was not even permitted to keep the basket of peaches; she considered she had a right to that. Before returning to The Larches, Mrs. Bentley drove to the market garden and Mrs. Graves took the fruit to the house. It almost broke Christina's heart; a terrible caning, which probably would kill her – and no gorgeous peaches!...

The teacher showed mother and daughter into a large bedroom. She tossed a cane, which she had brought from the car, on to the bed. Then she went to make a telephone call. Mrs. Graves picked up the implement of correction and fingered it. "Well, this is it, Chrissie," she said sadly, "I haven't seen one of these for more than twenty-five years."

The recipient of it felt as though she had a big lump of hard suet pudding in her stomach. "Oh, God! Mummy, I'm scared! This – this is medieval!"

It was a long, slim rattan with a curved handle. The usual school implement, to which Christina was not a complete stranger. She looked at its mute menace, the thick, stubby end, the joints upon its rusty-yellow surface; dread lay like a weight on her tummy. Why, oh, why, had she been such a little fool? That bloody peach! Just one! One discarded nut...! And she was supposed to be a clever girl.

"Bend forward a little, Chrissie." The girl looked at her mother in surprise. "Er-mummy?" Suddenly hopeful – "Are you going to give it to me?"

"No, dear. I'm just – curious. Bend forward, just a little." Looking at her mother holding the cane, Christina felt a sudden surge of affection and it seemed to be part of an odd little sensation near her navel. She obeyed diffidently, feeling foolish and embarrassed – yet in a queer sort of way she rather liked it. Impulsively, she bent right over, so that her taut skirt provocatively outlined her protruding hindquarters. She did not know why, except that it was somehow part of the sudden feeling of love and remorse she felt towards her mother, and a little tingle of excitement at the idea of bending over for her mother to cane her backside. But of course that was merely because mummy was only pretending... She felt a tap against her well-curved rear, then a sharp little rap, not hard enough to sting; but she was distinctly aware of a funny feeling of pleasure in her nether area. "Perhaps I should have given you this on your bottom years ago. Stand up, darling."

Christina straightened herself. "Mummy, would you give it to me?" – "I can't Chrissie."

"Why? You could give me the same – fifteen on my bare bottom. I'd rather have it from you." As she spoke a very odd thought came to her, a very strange thought indeed; it seemed to come from nowhere, cast up from the unplumbed depths of her mind. It was a conviction that some time she must persuade her mother to beat her on her behind, for no other reason than that she wanted it. It was a stupid, infantile, notion! And that afternoon she had contemptuously refused a spanking.

Mrs. Graves shook her head, and threw the cane on to the bed. "I couldn't, child. I just couldn't. It has to be very severe."

"Oh, mummy!" The girl could hardly speak. "I'm so frightened!"

MOTHER: "My poor little girl! Oh, why did you have to do it?"

DAUGHTER: "A few peaches!"

"It isn't just that. It's your lies. You swore, Christina! It was a shameless deceit. And to do such a thing to Bobbie!" "I didn't do anything to him. No-one need have known anything about it." "If they'd been found in his room..."

Christina suddenly read something of the hurt in those faded blue eyes, which were a little tearful, and for the first time the realisation that her mother was suffering too, penetrated her self-centred, self-pitying awareness. "Oh, mummy, I'm sorry. Do you hate me?"

"Hate you, Christina? Oh, my darling! You know how much I love you. I'd give anything in the world if you didn't have to be caned."

"But, mummy, I don't. Tell Mrs. Bentley you've changed your mind."

"I haven't changed my mind, Chrissie. I see now how wrong I've been all these years. I have always known how deceiptful you were! I could never bring myself even to smack your bottom. My poor girl, I'm sorry, but you must be punished. In a way you will never forget!"

"It's wrong," moaned Christina, "it's brutal. Oh, mummy, let's go home. You can beat me. With the slipper. Or – or a stick from the garden. As hard as you like. With nothing on."

Like many weak-charactered people, Mrs. Graves had been shocked into surprising obstinacy. "No, my girl. No! My mind is made up. You must be very severely whipped. You begged for it – now stop whining and take it! My God, how do you think I feel?"

"I'm sorry. I'm not very brave." The girl felt utterly miserable. She knew her punishment was just, but it seemed dreadfully harsh. It would have been better had her mother spanked her years ago. Perhaps corporal punishment should be more severe at school. Half to herself, she muttered: "It's so humiliating. I'm an adult. My behind... all bare. I'll be sick with shame!"

The distressed parent suffered another sharp pang. There was to be even more humiliating indignity and shame which her poor child knew nothing of.

Mrs. Bentley entered the room, carry a thick foam-filled cushion taken from an easy chair. She placed it upon a low table, which she pulled into the middle of the room. She sent Christina to the toilet, then spoke to Mrs. Graves. "I'm afraid this is going to be very distressing for you, my dear." The anxious mother, sitting in a wickered armchair, was still a shade lachrymose. "I must warn you – Christina will probably cry very loudly. She may even scream. You must be prepared for that. But on no account, no matter how much noise, you mustn't interfere. Promise, Mrs. Graves?"

"It – it won't harm her? I mean – the shock, perhaps?"

"She is a strong, healthy girl. I've caned girls very severely in the past. They get over it, and the weals heal."

The mother had many doubts, she was sick with worry and anxiety; but her daughter's deceipt had hit her too badly. The girl had to be punished. And it was her duty to be present. She would steel herself to Christina's suffering, much as she dreaded it. She believed – she hoped – that the sharp shock of severe discipline now would be sufficient to shake the girl off the course she had been taking; might perhaps save her from a life of sordid dishonesty and unhappinness. Mrs. Bentley, too, was not entirely happy. Dubious about the legal position, as well as the professional ethics involved, she saw the mother's presence as a wise precaution. She was convinced that what she had to do was her moral duty, but anticipation afforded no sadistic pleasure.

Picking up the instrument of justice, the mistress flexed it between her big hands, curving it almost into a loop. She saw that the culprit's unhappy eyes were following every ominous movement, her face was pallid and looked drawn. Mrs. Bentley was genuinely sorry for the girl, as she was for the unhappy mother. She felt, indeed, that there was poetic justices in Mrs. Graves' having to witness the anguished squirms of her beloved offspring, to her agonized cries under the flailing rod; that perhaps it was not an unfair penalty for those years of lack of maternal commonsense and proper guidance.

"You understand why I am doing this, Christina?" – "Yes, ma'am."

"Tell me." She wanted it firmly fixed in the offender's mind.

"For – for stealing fruit, ma'am." Poor Christina was inwardly squirming under the humiliating ignominy of having to go through this in front of her mother. "And and..."

"Yes, child?"

Child! Just a naughty child! She, very nearly an undergraduate, "For lying when I said I only picked three peaches. And..." She gulped. It had to be said. "I'd have let my brother take the blame if I could."

"Yes. That was cowardly, wasn't it? Contemptible!" – "Yes, ma'am."

"You will never forget this thrashing, and you will never forget the reasons. Now undress." The girl took off her light summer jacket, removed her shoes, pulled down tights and briefs and stepped out of them. Then she looked hesitantly at the mistress. "Strip. Everything except your brassiere." With abashed head lowered, Christina obeyed. Her face was not pale now; she could feel the burning colour that suffused her cheeks. She could still hardly believe it, it was like a nightmare. She was actually stripping, for a flogging! She felt very bad inside herself, but she was honest enough to blame nobody but Christina – and a malevolent fate. She was a liar, thief, coward. She deserved a bloody good walloping! she thought bitterly. Christ, she'd be glad to get it over! With her back turned to the two women she took off her dress; finally, slowly and reluctantly, her waist slip. She stood with abject head bowed, tormented by abasement and shame. There could be no modesty for a young lady that had to be flogged.

Mrs. Graves, watching the gradual unveiling of her daughter, was disturbed by her unsightly corpulence, and again had to accuse herself of neglect. She had not seen Christina in the nude for a long time, probably five years, and had taken for granted the fact that she was putting on flesh. She had let herself be cajoled into giving her excessive pocket money. The child stuffed herself with sweets, ice-creams, chocolates and crisps; when she remonstrated she was ignored and she let it slide. Christina, too, was very conscious of her fat. Rounded fatty breasts; thick waist; belly rather too well curved; large soft buttocks, the flesh flaccid like a baby's; good straight legs, but fat thighs and calves.

''Right. Across that cushion! No, right across it," as the delinquent bent over it. Pulling herself up, she lay with her tummy pressed into the cushion, head and shoulders hanging on one side, toes just touching the floor. Anticipating tearful pleading and objection, Mrs. Bentley was relieved that the girl was not making difficulties. Mrs. Graves was also thankful that her unfortunate child was behaving so docilely. She was amazed by Christina's submissiveness and obedience, and she was impressed by the potency of a supple cane in the hands of an authoritative person – it was a bitter object lesson in the handling of recalcitrant kids!

Christina could have cried with the bitterness of her outraged pudency, and was fervently wishing that her mother was not there to see her humiliation and degradation. In that ignominious position she seemed to be all arse! She had sometimes enjoyed a giggle with other girls about "titties", and "bums", but never in her life had she been so woefully aware of her own posterior. Her fear and misery were intensified when her mistress grasped her arms and tied a pair of nylon tights around her wrists. They were soft and her wrists were not bound tightly together, but the consciousness of her helplessness made her feel something like despair.

So taut was she with nervous apprehension that she nearly screamed when she felt a cold, hard touch across her buttocks. Oh, God, help me bear it! The stick was lifted, there was a pause of a second or two, during which the suspense seemed unendurable – a sudden loud swishing sound, the sibilant menacing music of the rod – a blow across the crown of her upturned rear, which she scarcely felt... Then, with devastating suddenness, a feeling that she had never experienced and different to that which she had expected: a very peculiar sensation, a sting of razor-sharpness, like a thin hot wire cutting through skin and tissue to the very centre of her being, the shock of which snatched at her breath so that, for seconds, she could neither laugh nor cry, and she wanted to do both.

The punisher too was aware of an unusual feeling; a tingling sensation that seemed to be physical but which was not, something that seemed to be pleasurable but which afforded her no pleasure. She understood it, she was on the verge of sexua! titillation.

Thinking about it later, she realised that there had been a degree of perverted pleasure, especially as the convulsive jerking of the girl's limbs had offered glimpses of a small round, puckered rosette, and part of pink intimate lips with tufts of brown curly hair. It was evident that such chastisement could well induce some sensual thrill, and she thought it could be unhealthy to indulge too much.

She knew that fifteen strokes of a willowy rattan across the young girl's naked, very tender, nates were going to be intensely painful. She had to be harsh, relentless, for Christina's own sake, she sincerely believed that. Nevertheless, she had no wish to be unnecessarily cruel or sadistic. She carried out her task slowly and carefully, poising the cane before bringing it whipping down. The first few cuts were administered with some restraint, but hard enough to hurt – and hurt they did. The wretched girl uttered a loud gasping cry at the second and a louder cry at the third; then, with stoical determination, clamped lips and teeth together breathing noisily through her nose, tears stinging her eyes, while two more stabs of burning, stinging anguish bit through her. The sixth, somewhat harder, made the victim's body jerk, and wrenched a squealing cry from contorted mouth, and water ran over plump cheeks.

She whimpered quietly, while Mrs Bentley paused for a few seconds. Six thin, parallel lines were branded, in varying depths of redness, across each creamy-white fleshy hillock. Raising the instrument, she poised it, lifted it well back, and brought it down good and hard to slash into the junction of cheek and thigh. THWACK! – "Ooooh!" Those anguished howls had a special anguish for the distressed mother. It was a poignant penalty for the inept upbringing of her wilful child; she suffered mentally as Christina did physically.

The beating became more forceful. The rattan bent resiliently as it struck, biting viciously into the fat yielding flesh so that it seemed as though the skin must be cut. But when it was raised, nothing was visible but a whitish mark, which rapidly turned to a pale pink, then a delicate carmine, deepening through deep rose to assume an angry crimson as the stripe began to swell; then to a slightly concave weal, wine red, edged with thin lines of scarlet. The victim's position, loosely bound arms hanging limply, toes just touching the carpet, her weight absorbed by the cushion, rendered her helpless. She could scarcely wriggle, nor could the natural physiological reaction contract her buttocks fully.

After nine resounding whacks the unfortunate girl was crying with loud raucous howls like a baby; her shoulders were shaken by sobs, tears were forming a little damp patch on the carpet. All of her bottom was on fire, each scorching stroke stabbed through her body cutting her into two, and she was sure she was being lashed to pieces. The heartrending cries affected the mistress so that she wanted to curtail the punishment, but she told herself that she must harden her heart. The girl needed a flogging. Playing at it could conceivably do more harm than good. She put all her weight behind the final whacks, bringing the swishy implement slashing down with long, powerful, almost savage swings.

SWISH-WHACK! – "Ooh-ah! No-no mo-more! Christ! P-p-please, ma-ma'am! Oh, stop! Ooooh...!" Choked by streaming tears, broken by convulsive sobs, the pitiable pleas were scarcely coherent. Tears were oozing over Mrs. Graves' wan cheeks, too, and it was all she could do not to rush to stop the thrashing. Please, God, make it stop! She's a bad naughty girl and deserved to get the cane but she's had enough!

The eleventh stroke produced a ringing shriek. From the corner of her eye the teacher saw Mrs. Graves start up from her chair. She shook her head sternly and motioned the woman to sit down. A glistening bead of crimson had appeared upon the swollen, inflamed, wealed flesh. The next wallop was aimed to avoid it, but produced another shining smear of blood, and another loud scream, but the punisher would not let herself be softened. She did not regard fifteen as excessive for a healthy young woman. She had had some experience of severe caning at a strict private boarding school, and had twice given fifteen strokes. In one such case the offender, a tough, obstreperous sixteen-year-old, had taken the castigation bending over, with nothing more than a few gasps and winces. When it was over she had straightened up, grinned, with wet eyes shining, and – wearing nothing below her shirt – had performed a few steps of the can-can. Now, the mistress was shocked by the results upon her present subject, and was thankful when, after two more ringing cracks across the upper part of Christina's tormented rump, she threw the rattan down.

Christina had no urge to retrieve her pride by any show of boldness. She would gladly have grovelled, kissed the rod or her mistress's feet. She vowed to herself that she would never, ever, steal so much as a penny or a small green apple. She had one lesser ordeal to come.

The chastisement over, she lay prone on the carpet, being patted and consoled by her mother. She stopped weeping, but whimpered and groaned with the almost intolerable burning ache of her livid swollen weals. As the intensity of pain eased slightly she accepted what had happened – she'd asked for it, and in a bizarre way she was glad. But it was to take time before her distraught parent could endure, with equanimity, the scarifying mental picture of her beloved daughter ceremonially flogged like a criminal.

With a shock of incredulity, Christina learned that Mr. Atkins had arrived to inspect the physical results. "Oh, ma'am, no! No, please! I can't let him see!" Mrs. Bentley had made the arrangement believing that the additional shame and disgrace would help in impressing the culprit's culpability deep into her soul. Now, touched by the child's pathetic state – face, stained and grubby, reddened puffy eyes – she felt pangs of remorse. But she could not go back on her promise to the grower. "I'm sorry, my dear. It is fair that he should see for himself. You can call it part of the punishment."

"It'll shame me! I'm too old to let a man... Oh, mummy, must I?" She must. Mrs. Graves had consented reluctantly. Remembering the man's scepticism when she had promised to spank her daughter, she thought it wasn't a bad thing that he should see with his own eyes the penalty that had been paid. "Darling, he knows what a naked girl looks like. And he thrashed his daughter's bare backside with a leather strap when she was your age."

"I'll die with shame!"

"No you won't my dear," said Mrs. Bentley. "You'll find it won't be so bad, and he'll only see your back." That was to prove inaccurate. "Stand with your legs together and hold something against your front."

Any sexual thrill the man might have felt was neutralized by the jolt he received at the sight of Christina's savaged rear. Inflamed swollen flesh; thick, reddish-purple weals; ugly livid knots and dark trickles of dried blood where weals crossed. "My!" he ejaculated. "Oh, my! Oh, the poor maid! I'd not have wanted it to be like that. It were common 'nough for us kids to get the stick 'cross our backsides at school. But I never see nothing like this, never! I'm right sorry it 'ad to be me as brought this on ee, Miss Christina. Don't s'pose you'm feeling too friendly, like."

"Oh, it's all right, Mr. Atkins. I – I... Well, I was a bad girl and I got what I deserved. Now it's over I'm glad Mrs. Bentley was severe!"

"Eh, lass? You are?"

"It's made me see how bad and – and stupid I was. I'll never steal again. Never!"

"Well, miss, I'm all the more glad as I brought along a little something as might 'elp to take the sting away a bit. Yur's four pounds each o' my very best quality peaches an' Victorias."

The girl swung round, holding her dress round herself. She saw, standing by the door, the familiar basket together with a corrugated carton. "Oh, Mr. Atkins!" she gasped in delight. "Oh, I say! Thank you! I don't deserve them!"

" 'appen not, but I'll never forget 'ow pleased my Pansy were, I walloped 'er bare bum for goin' after grapes. Layin' on 'er bed, too stiff to move, she were, poor kid. I went an' picked 'er some fruit. Give I a smashin' kiss, 'er did!"

For one reason and another, Christina was becoming a little randy, despite the fact that her bottom was still burning and aching intensely; and in her delight at the unexpected gift she was ready for a cuddle. "Would you like one from me, Mr. Atkins?" she asked mischievously.

"Needn't ask that again, my lover!" Taking her in his arms he kissed her mouth. To his blissful surprise, she responded ardently, lips straining against lips in a long, luscious kiss. During their embrace the dress dropped to the floor – Christina was never sure whether it was an accident or not. Relinquishing his delicious, buxom, bundle of femininity, the man stepped back, breathing hard – and what he saw elicited a whispered "oooh – oh, my!" For several seconds the girl stood, quite wantonly, with parted legs and a brazen smile upon her tear-stained face, Atkins stared, bewildered and ecstatic, at a very full mount of Venus and tempting pink labia not entirely concealed by a luxuriant growth of brown hair. Then he spun round to confront the two women, who were staring, too astounded to speak.

He grinned, red-faced and guilty. "Payment for me peaches – what a peach! Eh, wait'll I tell the missus I kissed a lovely young naked female an' seen a beautiful bare be'ind an' all er"s got! Cor – er... give I peaches!"

When he had gone, schoolmistress and mother stared at each other. "Well!" said the latter. "Ar!" said the former, with a faint smile. "An' I 'opes 'er does!"

"Brazen hussy!" Mrs. Graves said to her blushing daughter. "If you hadn't just been whipped, I – well, I damn well would spank you!"

The girl smiled at her mother and said softly. "I think you should, mummy. When my bottom is better."

"I think so too," the Deputy Principal commented, "but I suppose we asked for that. Take a couple of days off from school, Christina. And we'll see the school doctor and talk about a diet for you, my dear. Right?"

"Right, Mrs. Bentley. And – and thank you for whipping me. And for letting Mr. Atkins see my bare bot. Eight pounds of fruit – and what a kiss!"

"H'm! You certainly should keep a sharp eye on this young lady, Mrs. Graves. And a hairbrush or slipper on her bottom when she needs it."

"I was thinking the same thing, Mrs. Bentley. I think this unfortunate affair has served a very useful purpose, after all. I was wondering – do you think you could let me have this cane?"

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