Mrs. Flayskin, or, more correctly, Lady Flayskin, for by her marriage with Lord Flayskin she had entered the highest rancks of the English nobility -- the class which has given the country its most illustrious soldiers and politicians -- Lady Flayskin, then, was of American origin. Her beauty was of the American style which is often somewhat grotesque; that is to say, that while the general effect was pleasing, the details were defective. Her eyes were too deeply set and too far apart, one from the other. Her nose was too broad at the top and turned up at the tip like a bird's beak.
Her appearance greatly impressed me, nevertheless. She was tall, she spoke softly and slowly, and could at will give a languid intonation to her words as befitted a blonde beauty.
When Besty and I entered the room into which we were shown, we found Lady Flayskin, and with her a gentleman who appeared to me even more rigid and starched than Mr. Baker. By his nasal twang I took him to be an American. I was right. In New York he was a personage of note, for he was there actively engaged in the organisation of societies for the prevention of vice and assiduously busied himself with the private lives of other citizens.
He had also succeeded, thanks to his obstinate importunity, in getting the government to decide that it was the duty of magistrates to exercise astringent supervision over the morals of the people and by the severity of punishments inflicted, to check every deviation from the narrow path of purity calculated to set a bad example.
In his present surroundings, he seemed entirely at his ease and quite at home.
When we entered, he addressed Lady
Flayskin. After fixing on me his round, cold light grey eyes he remarked:
"Another pupil for you?"
"He appears to me to be in need ot supervision."
"All have to be controlled and punished."
"I think so too!
"Oh! you and I know that we have ton; held identical opinions."
"That does us credit. In truth, the world would be a better place than it is if everyone was imbued with the conviction that youth requires moral training."
"Which only the rod can impart."
This conversation to which I listened open-mouthed was not reassuring.
I had already tasted the whip as applied by the rough hand of Betsy and did not feel tempted to renew its acquaintance. My little posterior still smarted from the whipping of the day before.
After Betsy had explained who I was, and had hugged me in her big arms, covering my20
face the while with a rain of kisses in effusiveness which I found more astonishing than affecting, Lady Flayskin entrusted me to the keeping of an under-mistress who had just entered the room in hurried response to the summons of an electric hell.
The latter was a thick-set dumpy woman of incredible mobility. Even when she was not speaking and was sitting in her chair, all her body Moved: eyes, nose, lips, and bust. She had movements for asking questions, for doubting, for hesitating and for signifying approval. Yet this was not through lacking a fine large tongue, as I was able to notice. During the few moments required to conduct me through the corridor to the class-room assigned to me, she found means to tell me a great many most curious things. Among other items of information, she told me that Lady Flayskin was a person of real distinction, a typical member of the aristocracy. That the profession of schoolmistress was with her nothing less than a sacred call. That as I could easily see, she had no need whatever to undertake occupation of any kind. That thank God! -- the late regretted Lord Flayskin had his wife an immense fortune. Then she broke off suddenly and enquired if I wore stays?
I was much suprised at the question and although the circumstances of my present position were by no means of a sort to incite me to gaiety, the idea that I could have stays on, made me burst into laughter.
Immediately this person who had been all smiles and pleasant chat, changed countenance with a suddenness which inspired me with terror. My laughter was choked in my throat. Withnostrils distended, her eyes full of menace, the stout little woman shook my arm roughly, pulling and pushing me here and there as though I had been the handle of a pump and she had resolved to pump out of me my crowning irreverence.
"Little wretch! What possesses you to make you laugh like that? If you are not accustomed to stays those I am going to put on you will make you suffer. We shall then see if you are still in a laughing mood."
We had reached the class-room. We found no pupils therein. All were in the dormitory,
it being the time when girls and boys had to wash their hands before appearing at table. But the mistress under whose orders I was to study was still there. She proved to be a narrow strip of a woman with straight towcoloured hair, as angular and sparing of gesture as my fat, dark-haired and blackeyed conductress was rotund and vivacious.
"Mr. Stuart", said the dumpy woman, bowing pleasantly to the thin one, "this is young Sanderson of whose corning you have already heard. Shall he sit down to table as he is, or do you wish him to be dressed like the others?"
"What a question!" replied the other with a shrug of her lean shoulders. "Certainly it is unfitting that he should be different from the others. It would be notorious disorder and nothing less. Has not Lady Flayshin given you any instructions on the matter?"
"She must have forgotten. I neglected to ask her for precise instructions."
"Then the duty devolves upon me. Go immediately to the store-room and get things to fit him. If luncheon is finished, he will have to eat by himself, that's all. But i am resolved that he shall not mingle in those outrageous clothes with the pupils. It would be a case of the wolf in the fold!"
I did not understand in the least what was required of me; but with feelings more affected than I can tell, I quietly followed my conductress who now took me to the outfitting establishment. Here a vast number of little girls' dresses were hung up by hooks, while boxes containing boots with high heels were arranged in their order of size upon the shelves. There were drawers containing glazed kid gloves. Others contained petticoats, dress ing-jackets and pairs of stays. Then again there was a little girls' drawers department. In short, it was a typical wardrobe.
She began by taking my measurements with a great deal of vivacity. Her hands went hither and thither over my body and irritated my nerves. I became ill at ease and ashamed. She noticed my confusion and only laughed.
She quickly took my clothes off and found fault with the cleanness of my body, although Betsy had washed me all over that same
morning. She therefore took me into an adjoining room which proved to contain a bath. I was plunged into the water and abundantly soaped. Her ands affected me indescribably. She seemed to put both malice and craft into her movements. When I appeared to her sufficiently white and clean, she dried me, delaying the operation longer than appeared necessary, and then led me back again to the clothes store.
She began by rigging me out in a little sleeveless chemise such as girls wear. Then she put on my legs very long stockings of black spun silk. After that, she decked me out in a little girl's drawers and a pair of stays which she tight-laced with all her strength, almost preventing me from breathing. The stiff whalebones then proved painful. But this physical discomfort was as nothing in comparison with the shame I felt at being thus dressed up in a fashion so little in accordance with my sex. Like all children of my age, I was not a little proud of being a boy. It seemed to me that this costume changed me undoubtedly into a girl.
I was not at the end of my martyrdom.
My shame increased and became intolerable when she attached the stockings to the stays by garters, and put elegant boots on my feet.
The latter were very narrow, arched, buttoned boots with an exaggerated instep, and very high Louis XV, heels; "French" heels, as we say in England. They went very high up the calf of my legs and the material was kid. The toes were excessively pointed and highly varnished.
They would no doubt have appeared to me elegant and pretty enough if worn by some lady or young person of the gentle sex, although at that time I had not yet paid much attention to ladies' feet.
When I comprehended that they were going
to replace my flat-heeled boots; my good, laced
boots so serviceable for running and walking,
they appeared to me grotesque, odd and ridiculous.
It seemed to me that I had never yet set eyes on such boots. I was ready to laugh and cry at the same time. I stood there looking in a stupefied way at the boots in the hands of the under-mistress, the latter being on the
point of putting them on my feet. She became annoyed at my listlessness.
"Well, watt possesses you? When will you be done looking at me in that stupid way?"
"You are surely not going to put those boots on my feet?"
"Then you suppose wrong! I am going to put them on you at once."
"In the first place, I could never walk and run with those high heels!"
"You will get accustomed to them. By paying a little attention, you will succeed in walking very well with those heels. That will cure you of your naughty temper. Run? I absolutely forbid you to run. There is no running here!"
"I won't put on those boots! I won't let you put them on mel Nobody shall put them on me! No! No! No!"
"Now then! What ails you now? Put out the foot! Immediately!
I was intimidated and obeyed mechanically. She put on the boot, and I had to press with all my weight on the ground, giving little kicks to make my foot enter,being horribly crushed und squeezed in the process.
With a button-hook, she immediately fastened up the boots and I experienced at the instep a horrible feeling of discomfort. The same operation was then gone through with the other foot. I stood up and imme-diately nearly fell down. She scolded me, laughing the while, then told me to take a few steps. This I did in a tottering way. My legs shook under me and with these heels I seemed to be walking on stilts slipping from under me. It was quit a new sensation.
The insecurity of my steps gave me an impression of great weakness and I was in a state of consternation.
I got as far as a large mirror, level with
the ground along the wall opposite the door,
between two cupboards. Mechanically I looked
and was transfixed by what the mirror
revealed. I saw with wretched surprise a
face which was the reflection of my own. I
saw its look of shame and its tear-dimmed
eyes. Yes! I saw myself in a little girl's
drawers with bare arms and shoulders, wear-
28 ing ridiculous wretched stays; absurd stockings and hateful, uncomfortable boots, grotesquely arched and high.
At the sensation of the hand of the mistress upon my shoulder, I trembled. She was tying shoulder-straps to my corset, but the leather of this appliance for making me keep my chest well up was very thick and stiff. She pressed herself against me and put her cheek close to mine. I saw in the glass her amused, smiling expression; her large face contrasting with the despairing features against which it was held.
I should have long remained staring at this picture, for my power of volition seemed to have died within me, if she had not roughly burst in upon my thoughts.
"We've no time to lose. You must dress and eat a scrap of something in your fingers. You can see that playtime has already begun and soon the bell will ring for work to start again. It won't do for you not to be in your place on the very first day. It would be a bad example."
As she spoke, she pulled me away from the glass and her quick hands busied themselves in the task of dressing me. I let her do as she liked, lost in my thoughts. Playhours, she had told me, had begun; and I could not hear a sound save the clattering on stones of heels of the same pattern, doubtless, as those I was myself condemmed to use.
What then could be the meaning of this play, which was conducted in silence?
How little it resembled the playground of that good parish school I so sorely regretted! There the master stood apart from us, looking at us and seldom speaking. His few words were a remonstrance addressed to any scholar who was not sufficiently exerting himself, or who was altogether neglecting to play, and always in those calm even tones. He was indeed in the habit of telling us, as though he were citing a maxim, that exercise ought to be violent and work tranquil.
I was dressed. The mistress pushed me in front of the mirror. Except for my short hair, I looked a girl, indeed a pretty girl, if I may say so. This conclusion gave me little pleasure.
I was thoroughly sick at heart.
Still guided by the under-mistress, Mrs. Eagle, I reached the dining-hall, which had been vacated by everyone a quarter of an hour before. The cloth had already been removed from the immense table, but a napkin had been spread and a knife and fork placed thereon for me. I had to sit down and do honour to the food which a maid brought me. I was served by the mistress. I managed to eat, but at each mouthful, a lump seemed to rise in my throat and nearly choke me.
I had the habit not unusual with little boys, of leaning far forward over my plate and eating quickly. But this was now out of the question. The leather shoulder-straps cut into my flesh and the bones of my corset were very painful so soon as ever I attempted to lean forward. My unhappiness took away my appetite and I ate without pleasure and consequently not very quickly.
The under-mistress, however, pressed me to eat. She cut up my meat and scolded me.
At length the cheese was brought and I ate more rapidly and was again scolded. This time my offence consisted in having let a little butter fall on my white muslin bodice, whence it threatened to slip on to the sash of azure-hued silk with which I had been adorned.
We the dining-hall and went into the school-room where the pupils were already taking their places. The vigour and energy of my under-mistress saved me for the nonce. By dint of hustling me along, she succeeded in getting me to enter the room with the last comers. Although the distance was so short, I had more than twenty times nearly measured my length on the floor thanks to my abominable heels. But she had roughly pushed me and half carried me along, appearing to attach vast importance to our not arriving after the others.
Her face was smiling, out of breath though she was, as she dragged me by the hand right up in front of the high desk where the scraggy Mrs. Stuart was enthroned. She replied by a nod of the head, as abrupt as though caused by pulling a trigger, to the profound curtsey with which she was ho
noured by graceful, dumpy Mrs. Eagle. The under-mistress shook my arm roughly, whispering:
"You too have got to salute!"
I did as I had been accustomed to do at the parish school when saluting our stiff and starched schoolmaster. That is to say, I executed a sort of military salute. I rapidly raised the forefinger of my right hand to the level of where I had been used to wearing a cap, and with equal celerity let my hand fall again to my side.
The stifled laughter which came from behind me did not have the eflect of reassuring me. Mrs. Stuart, however, had risen to her feet as though worked by a spring, displaying in the action the flat charms of her lengthy body. With finger outstretched threateningly, she snapped out:
"The whole class shall receive punishment for this lack of politeness to a newcomer and to my friend Mrs. Eagle."
Silence reigned once more as though by the enchantment of fear. Mrs. Stuart then turned to me, meantime slowly jamming her glasses upon a nose as long and thin as the blade of a knife. She then fixed a prolonged stare upon me as though she had not so much as set eyes on me a short time previously when I was in boy's clothes.
When she had finished her contemplation which lasted two good minutes, and appeared to be going to last an eternity, she negligently let her pretentious folders fall and to my great consternation pronounced these words:
"I recognise the talent of Mrs. Eagle... No, dear friend, it is useless for you to protest! You have extraordinary skill. I said the same thing only yesterday to Lady Flayskin and Mr. Gostock... There you are, young man, so well fitted out that anyone would declare you were a little girl, though certainly a very badly-behaved one. A salutation is not made in that way. And your steps are too long. But your heels will teach you that without anyone's help. The curtsey, however, is another matter. You must learn that from us. What is your name?"
"James? Very good. In the future I shall call you Alice. It is right that you should have a woman's name as your dress is feminine."
At this fresh insult, I could not contain myself and burst into hysterical sobs.
This time, in spite of the threat of a moment before, laughter broke out behind me quite openly and distinctly. Mrs. Eagle laughed also. And although Mrs. Stuart made no sound, her long thin nose quivered, her thin lips twisted, her eyes became fixed in a horrible doll-like stare. This, as I afterwards discovered, was her manner of laughing, and very disagreeable it was.
As to myself, the shame I felt at being called by a girl's name was so overwhelming that I was unable to experience any additional shame for the moment. The laughter, the grimace of Mrs. Stuart, this and all the rest had no further effect upon me. I was, as it were, beyond all feeling.
"Will you have the kindness to take Miss Alice to her place?" said Mrs. Stuard. "There, to that unoccupied desk between Miss Carrie and Miss Lizzie."
I was taken to the indicated seat and now to my own resources as to my manner of behaving. But my environment seemed pitted against me. As the lesson (it was geography) continued, I again became the butt of my fellow-pupils. "Butt" is a perfectly correct term in this connection. Not only was I the object of sly looks froom all quarters, but I was also the target for balls of chewed paper well soaked in saliva, and a storm of pellets rained around me: This attack provoked in me a healthy revulsion of feeling. My masculine instincts were roused and I wished in turn to attack my persecutors. For the moment I became oblivious of the girlish frippery dishonouring me.
The class-room was fairly capacious although adapted for only twenty pupils. Each had his separate desk, which did not touch that of his neighbour: In front of the teacher's desk, at the back of the room, near the, Wall, whence the mistress could at a glance command every thing, ran a kind of broad gangway separating the two rows of desks. On the boys' side, where my own place was, there were eight places occupied, counting mine. Four desks were vacant. On the girls' side all the twelve desks were occupied.
I looked about me openly, bodly facing the tempest of covert malice, a cyclone in which there was less of thunder than of hail and rain. Suddenly a ball of paper, more skilfully directed than the others, flattened itself against my lips. I had clearly seen who had propelled it. In a moment, I was on my feet and, raising with my two hands as high as I could the petticoats which impeded my progress, rushed towards the authoress of the insult. For it was a girl, though all, girls and boys alike, were in petticoats. I did not reflect that I ouhgt to have been able to. feel only contempt for my agressor. I had, however, not reckoned with the horrid heels of my hateful boots. At the moment when I reached my foe, who, for her part, was so terrified that she made no attempt to escape and contented herself by manifesting her fear in heartrending shrieks, my heels slipped beneath me and I fell down headlong on the floor. I nevertheless had time to seize and cling fast to the girl whom I thus dragged with me from her seat in my fall. By a vigorous twist of my body, I got on top of her holding her down while dealing at the same time several sound blows with my fist upon her face. Meantime she shrieked "Help! Help! Murder!" with all her might.
The thin wiry arms of Mrs. Stuart came and rescued the little girl from my terrible grip.
The lean mistress, without a moment's hesitation, had rushed down the steps of her desk, covering at a gallop the few yards which separated her from the writhing mass on the floor, while the boys clapped their hands with delight at each blow I gave. The girls wept with fear.
Mrs. Stuart pinched and twisted my ears between her crooked fingers. I at once released my victim and rose to my feet. My enemy lay motionless on the ground, her legs stretched out. One would have imagined she was dead, had not her deep breathing and the rise and fall of her bosom proved her to still belong to the land of the living. The
mistress, still holding my ear, led me back to, my place, which I reached after several stumbles due to my heels and in a very crestfallen state of mind.
Mrs. Stuart stood before me as I sat at my desk. She haughtily surveyed me with her arms crossed upon her breast, then, touching me here and there she examined the damage done to my costume. The beautiful azureblue silk sash was tumbled about out of recog-nition. With my right hand, I had split the fine, glazed, black kid glove which covered my arm up to the elbow and above it. And in my exceedingly short white muslin skirt was a rent. The mistress pointed out a rip here and a thear there in a hard, calm voice as through she were making an inventory.
Her tones were the same when she estimated the damage I had occasioned to the toilet of my enemy. I had indeed, in vigorously rolling the little girl on the ground, caused great disorder in her dress. One of her tine black gloves had been pulled inside out and the buttons dragged off, while the other, torn open, showed the palm of the hand.
Having finished her examination, the mistress went back to her high desh with great dignity. She announced that the lesson would stop for the time being, and that in consideration of the gravity of what had happened, she intended asking Lady Flayskin to come into the class-room to decide upon the punishment to be given after a rapid investigation had shown the relative guilt of each culprit.
In fact, she immediately despatched one of the pupils to the directress.
I did not know what was going to follow, and anyhow I little cared. I was filled with a sense of the justice ot my cause and my combative instinct had not yet subsided. I only regretted that the time had not been long enough to enable me to give my enemy much more severe punishment. I said to myself, she should lose nothing through having to wait.
Nevertheless, the profound silence which reigned in the class-room ought to have given me matter for reflection. Everyone seemed overwhelmed. It looked as if something heavy weighed upon all these young
sters; as if, in fact, things were going to happen, for ray fellow-pupils had had more experience than I.
To begin with, Lady Flayskin made a majestic entry. She was accompanied by Mr. Gostock, the austere American Puritan whose pale, cold eyes had already so strongly impressed me a short time before. As these august visitors entered, all the pupils rose in their places. I myself imitating the others. Mrs. Stuart her desk and went respectfully to meet the head-mistress.
All this ceremonial began to make me uneasy. I felt a vague apprehension that it, portended no good for me. I had a shrewd notion that the head-mistress, this haughty member of the aristocracy, was not a person who cared to be disturbed without reason.
I was right.
Mrs. Stuart began by explaining the incident in a sufficient impartial way. It was a question of laughter and balls of paper. She said that she was herself upon the point of intervening when I, in my unreasonable impatience, had taken justice into my own hands. So far she only spoke the truth. Matters took another turn when she added that I had perhaps been mistaken, for it was quite uncertain if Clara Weecock had been the culprit who had propelled the little missile, and that possibly she had paid for the offence of another. She added that Clara had, in any case, paid already, as I had rushed upon her with a storm of blows from my fists on her face. The conclusion to be established was that I was a perfect little savage who must be civilised as soon as possible or more serious results would follow.
It was in vain that I had tried to attract the kind attention of the head-mistress by adopting the usage I had learnt at the parish school. That is to say, in order to gain permission to speak, I had, with the object of correcting a mistake upon the part of the mistress, energetically rubbed my middle finger against my thumb; the finger then struck the palm and produced a loud clack. The directress turned round at this noise and looked at me. Hitherto she had not glanced in my direction. I made my signal with renewed energy, thinking I was about to obtain that permission to speak for which I was so impatient. She turned, however, to the mistress and said quietly:
"Make himp stop, please."
There was no need to tell me to stop. I had immediately become quite still with, as it were, a heavy weight upon my heart, feeling crushed by the injustice of my treatment.
Lady Flayskin asked Mr. Gostock
What is your opinion?
he replied witkout hesitation:
"They should both be whipped."
"That is also my opinion."
Little Clara began to cry out, declaring that she had done nothing. This lie kindled my anger anew. I declared that it was entirely her fault ant that I had clearly seen her take aim and propel the disgusting pellet all saturated with saliva, making it strike me in the mouth.
The directress harshly told us to be quiet. She had removed her glazed, black kid glove and exhibited alarge arm very plump and white. Its appearance of strength boded ill for the unfortunate little posteriors doomed to be whipped.
Mr. Gostock interrupted her:
I beg you, my lady, don't take this trouble yourself.
The lady smiled graciously:"Ah! I read your mind! You wish your protégée, Miss Sinclair, to administer the punishment. "
"I beg you to allow her."
"The permission is granted. Miss Sinclair, have the kindness to apply the birch with all the energy of which you are capable. Begin with Miss Clara, so that this lout Alice may see what awaits her."
Miss Sinclair immediately stepped forward. She was a really pretty girl of from fifteen to sixteen years of age, very slender, but with firm, rounded arms which gave redoubtable promise of that rigorous action to which Lady Flayskin had appealed.
At this moment I saw the American's dull eyes light up. There passed over them aflame,
as it were, a blaze which immediately died away again. A little colour came to his cheeks, also disappearing immediately. Doubtless he experienced pleasure in seeing this pretty girl whip naked posteriors, but he did not think it fitting to display his feelings.
Miss Sinclair had already seized hold of Clara who shrieked to her to spare her, while again declaring her innocence.
As for me, I bit my lips till they almost bled, and clenched my fists, promising myself that I would strangle hateful Miss Sinclair if she should dare to lay a hand on me. But those ridiculous gloves in which they had rigged me out, prevented me from doubling my fists as I should have liked and I felt myself insecure upon those hateful heels which made me sway even when I was not walking.
Miss Sinclair had laid a hand on Clara's shoulder who walked sobbing to receive her punishment.
She was told to lean over the big table at the foot of the high desk where the mistress sat enthroned. To speak more correctly, she had to lie upon the table face downwards and forwards. With a dexterity, an ease of movement, an absence of gesture which spoke of habit, Miss Sinclair raised the petticoats of Miss Clara, whilst the victim's hands were immediately imprisoned in the long lean claws of the long Mrs. Stuart. After Miss Sinclair had adroitly pinned the skirts to the shoulders of the little martyr, the young unbuttoned the drawers, which she lowered to the heels.
The drawers were very curious. They consisted of a very tight garment which revealed to view the exact shape of the parts covered. I had never seen a similar garment. It was in fact, a pair of drawers made of black glazed kid of exactly the same material and shade as the long gloves we were obliged to wear. The hinder parts of Miss Clara were fully exposed, white and rounded. It was, upon my word, a very pretty pair of hemispheres and although hitherto I had never thought of attaching any importance to what little girls sit upon, I could not help being moved by the sight, thoug I had no idea of analysing the reasons of this curious emotion, which stirred me more deeply than I can well say. As to fear, I felt none whatever. The immediate future, however, was to prove for me terrible enough.
Miss Sinclair slowly drew off her long gloves rai I of the high desk. She was doing It- r t a s k without forgetting, the smallest detail, and immediately had her reward in a smile from correct Mr. Gostock; a smile, indeed, which was really a horrible grimace, or appeared to me such.
The directress then addressed Clara
"Well, Miss! I hope you feel ashamed to be exhibiting, the nudity of the lower part of your back to the gaze of the whole class? Are you sorry for your naughty folly?
"Pardon me, my lady, I beg you."
"Are you going again to propel balls of paper soaked with your spittle."
My lady!... I declare to you... I threw none.
The little boy niade a mistake.
"Do you see?" said the directress to Miss Sinclair. "She is incorrigible. Punish her well therefore, as much for her lie as for her fault. Don't spare her."
Clara moaned and wept in a stifled way, as her petticoats covering her head hardly let breathe. A spasmodic quiver ran up her little thighs, trembing already in anticipation.
Miss Sinclair did not appear to be at all in a hurry to begin the work of execution. Yet certain signs of animation in her manner sufficiently revealed her pleasure. Her fine dark eyes sparkled. Her pretty half-opened mouth showed her dainty, even, white teeth. She passed her pointed rosy little tongue over her crimson lips like a gourmand -with his favourite dish before him. She had also lifted her head in saucy pride and I remember that her fair hair seemed like a mass of burnished gold.
She proceeded with a quiet step and with quite the dignity of a queen, to a cupboard against the wall between tow large maps. Miss Sinclair was not troubled by her high heels. One would have thought she wore no boots at all, so easy were her movements. Her step was as noiseless as it was rhythmic.
She opened a drawer of the large cupboard and cast an inquiring glance within. After a pause, she took therefrom a birch which she
balanced in her hand. Then with a look of contempt and a shrug of the shoulders, she threw it back again. Her hand searched anew, and this time produced a very terrible implement as it appeared to me. It was a thick long rod, terminating in a steel-like point.
All these deliberate movements and preparations inspired a perfect paroxysm of terror in her who was about to be whipped. That was clear to every eye in the class by the writhings of the nude globes. They jutted out behind as though to meet the birch there was no escaping, and then contracted, as though to avoid it, all the while wriggling as though already stung a thousand cutting blows and moving from side to side as if the cruel pain were already more than they could bear. In short, they spoke with a dumb eloquence which was nothing less than poignant. And, in point of fact, both boys and girls showed their feelings by their bated breath. Without possibility of doubt, there was none more affected than I myself, not even perhaps excepting the poor little girl who waited for the first blow to fall. And while waiting -- for I knew that soon my turn would come -- I felt my fine courage of a few moments before melting into air, and my own anguish, became more and more intense. I knew that there would not even be any necessity to hold my hands. I was already at the mercy of beautiful Miss Stella Sinclair, whose calmness was, so to speak, a miraculous chain which bound me. I was spellbound. Had a miracle taken place before my eyes, I should have been unaffected by comparison. With that rod brandished in warlike. fashion in her hand, this fair young girl appeared to me an image of terror, an evil divinity. She was in truth a young she-devil in spite of her ravishing beauty. It was my fate to assure myself of the fact, by the eyes to begin with; in my skin afterwards.
She placed herself behind her victim and asked in exquisitely sweet, silvery tones:
"Are you ready.? "
"Yes! Yes!" came the reply in broken accents, as though wrung from a mind in mortal terror.
If Clara was ready, Stella was not, and I perceived that her question was designed simply to warn the child that the moment of punishment was at hand. Machiavelli-like, Stella desired to sharpen anew the heartrending anguish of her victim. The shaking and quivering of the bare stern showed that the object of astute Stella had been attained.
She stepped forward, stepped back again, extended her arm flourishing the rod, then again stepped forward. Evidently she was calculating her distance. But she gave much more time to her calculations than was necessary. That was certainly the opinion of her victim, for she cried out:
"Do for the love of God begin! It ought to be finished by now!"
This ingenuous complaint spoilt Stella's effect. Her careful acting broke down. In harsh tones, she replied:
"It is not for you to give me orders, Miss. The signal for beginning will not be given by, you. I am charged with the task of whipping you and naturally I wish to do my duty conscientiously. What have you to reply to that?"
"Nothing! Nothing!" sobbed the victim. "But I beg you, I entreat you, don't delay anymore. Get it done as quickly as possible. Oh, how I wish it were already finished!"
"That I can well understand," replied crafty Stella, in her witch-like tones. "You shall be well whipped I promise you, so your desire is natural, I feel myself in good form to-day. My energy is unusual. I feel a sensation of nervous force and I thank our dear directress, gracious Lady Flayskin, for having kindly entrusted me with the task of punishing you. I am not about to prove unworthy of her con fidence, as I beg to declare.
"Oh! Oh!" cried Clara.
"This begins to be -intolerable," said Miss Sinclair. "Yes or no, are you going to hold your tongue? And will you be so kind as not to agitate your impertinent hindquarters in so indecent a fashion. Keep still, or I will strip off the skin and make the blood run in streams down to your heels."
"Pardon me! Have pity on me!" moaned the wretched child.
But her prayer finished in a lord shriek. The punishment had begun.
How that diabolical rod whistled and bent when wielded by the supple and vigorous, though childlike arm of the flogger! Never should I have imagined that this bit of a girl had so much strength. My imagination no doubt increased the terror of the spectacle. If only I had been dressed in my knickerbockers, with strong laced boots on my feet, instead of wearing those unsteady high-heeled boots and girl's skirts, I should have known how to face Miss Sinclair. I would have soundly boxed her ears and shown her how a self-respecting boy treats a girl who intentionally annoys him. But rigged out as I was, and sorely tried by the multiple experiences of the past forty-eight hours, it is not surprising that I had little cou- rage left. It is known, too, how the mind reacts upon the body. I felt extremely weak and my body still smarted from the whipping which Betsy had given me the day before. Curious to relate, too, as I looked at Miss Sin- clair operating upon the bare flesh of unfortu- nate Clara, my mind called up the vision of the powerful maid-servant. The white arm of the young girl became transformed. It was the thick arm of Betsy that I saw, the thick resolute arm gloved in glazed black kid upon which my clenched hand had used itself in vain. So realistic was the vision that I forgot the presence of Clara. It was me receiving the blows, crying and begging for mercy.
Alas! what was then but a horrid nightmare was about to become a grim reality.
I listened as in a dream to the dreadful whistling of the rod, wielded by the untiring graceful arm of pretty Miss Sinclair. I heard the sobs, cries and entreaties of the victim, and her promises of amended conduct in the future. She confessed to having flipped the ball of paper and she accused her neighbour of having instigated her to commit the heinous deed. Then she said that she did not wish to accuse anyone. She had acted upon her own initiative alone. She shrieked in a heartrending manner, imploring for pardon and pity, declaring that she could not endure any more suffering, that she was going to die; that the whip had never hurt so much before.
She promised not to recommence her offences and implored Lady Flayskin to intervene and stop the flogging. Then she entreated Mr. Gostock to intercede with the directress that the latter might take pity upon her and pardon her.
She could not have entreated a deafer ear. For though at the time I was too much affected to notice Mr. Gostock, my observations later on showed me that this gentleman experienced the height of pleasure in watching the whipping of boys and girls by charming little Miss Sinclair. For from being likely to intercede for would, on the contrary, have been for a conti- nuation of operations, so enamoured was he or this kind of spectacle. This curious disposition of mind on the part of the gentleman will be clearly shown by the events which followed and which I shall relate in their own place. I must not anticipate.
No answer was made to the entreaties of the victim. Lady Flayshin, always the flawless and faultless woman of fashion, never for a moment forgetting that she was a rich American and a member of the innermost circle of British aristocracy, assumed a variety of attitudes while talking to Mr. Gostock, who replied to her in equally lofty tones. But, never for a moment did he cease to watch the elegant motion of the graceful white arm wielding the rod with unfailing energy and skill, and as gracefully as though it had been a fan.
At length, after a furious blow, to which reply was given in a despairing shriek, the torture ended.
Wretched Clara, slipping down upon her knees, wept with her head in her hands at the termination of the punishment, his prayers the side of the table upon which she had been whipped. No one paid any further attention to her. Miss Sinclair, on the other hand, received many congratulations.
The directress inquired in tones of some anxiety:
"I trust you are not over-fatigued? "
"Not in the least, dear Lady Flayshin."
"What energy! What skill!" exclaimed Mr. Gostock. "Allow me to congratulate you very sincerely, my dear, charming Miss Sinclair. But truly... You are not fatigued? No? I am afraid you do not feel equal to conducting the second whipping.
"It is now the matter of a boy's... ahem!
You understand my meaning? If the rod is not applied with severity, it will only cause him to laugh."
"Make your mind easy on that score, dear Lady Flayskin. I will make him shriek!"
At this assurance, of such interest for myself, the enthusiasm of Mr. Gostock knew to bounds. In tones thrilling with joy and admiration, he suggested:
"Rest yourself, if only for a moment, dear Miss Sinclair and take some refreshment."
"I am much obliged to you," replied Miss Sinclair, in her most bewitching tones.
In response to the electric bell, a maid came and was given an order. She returned a moment afterwards with a decanter, three wine-glasses and some biscuits. Miss Sinclair was the first to be handed a glass of old port, needless to say with much effusion by Mr. Gostock. She sipped her wine and nibbled her biscuit in the mincing manner of a cat, but with an air of perfect breeding. The other two glasses were for the American and the headmistress. Not even Mrs. Stuart was asked to join in the refreshements. With a peevish air she sat apart and was able to do as we did, that is to say, to look on.
But the age of the wine and the delicacy of the biscuits were at the time matters of no moment to me.
Miss Sinclair's affirmation had greatly increased my distress. I did not doubt but that she would keep her word and would make me shriek. I could not rid my mind of her intention. But I registered an inward promise that I would make no sound at all. By my attitude of contempt, I would affirm the enduring power of my sex. They should see that a little boy had a spirit of more mettle, if not tougher than a mere little girl.
Miss Sinclair, however, was interrupted in her sipping that she might tell weeping Clara to go on her knees by the side of the high desk, keeping her petticoats raised as before. Her drawers being still down at her heels, her swollen hinder charms were to be looked at by all the scholars. The slender twigs of the birch had traced quite a network of weals of a livid red hue gradually getting purple.
The unhappy child obeyed, sobbing in a , heart-broken manner. By a refinement of cruelty, pretty Miss Sinclair went to the cupboard and took out a mirror which she placed on the ground behind Clara, telling the child to look therein at the pitiful state of her thighs. The effect of this counsel was a fresh outburst of grief.
No one, however, paid any attention to me. I seemed to have been totally forgotten. But I noticed, on all sides, covert glances in my direction. Some of the pupils fixed a compassionate gaze upon me; but most seemed to be simply in a state of curiosity not unmixed with cruel satisfaction.
At length Miss Sinclair, the directress, and Mr. Gostock put down their empty glasses at the same moment and brushed the biscuit crumbs from their hands.
Miss Sinclair looked in my direction and raised a finger as a sign to me. The gesture was imperious. I trembled and I think I became deathly pale. The idea of disobeying did not so much as occur to me. Tottering on my hateful Louis XV, heels, my fet crushed and tortured in the ridiculous raised arched boots, I drew near the table of execution. Pretty Stella hade only to make a sign and with the docility of a lamb, I took the same position as Clara had done previously. That is to say, I lay upon it with my face thrust forwards and down wards, away from the executioner, and with my arms extended. Mrs. Stuart immediately caught hold of my wrists, and, in anticipation of possible resistance, knotted them together with a handkerchief. A quick hand raised my muslin skirts and drew them over my head which was thus muffled therein. My drawers were unfastened and slipped down my stupid black stockings to my dishonouring boots with their high insteps, and an unpleasant chilliness proved to me that my bare thighs were already delighting the class. I felt choked by an inexpressible feeling of shame. I was sick at heart and felt that I should never again be able to hold up my head.
I then knew for myself that terrible agony of waiting which had been endured by Clara. For I also, during a space of time which seemed to me endless, had to await the good pleasure of pretty imperious Miss Sinclair. As in the case of her first victim she addressed me in dulcet, honeyed tones, though they reached my ears strangely stifled by my petticoats. And this warning that she was about to begin threw me again into the most poignant sufferings at a moment when, owing to having waited so long, blessed insensibility had been creeping over me. I was beginning yet again to forget my horrible position when the first blow struck me across the thighs and all my fine resolutions disappeared like smoke, for I shrieked with all the strength of my lungs and cried for mercy like the veriest abject coward.
But the only response to my wails was the terrible birch, stinging like a nest of vipers.
Ah, that atrocious suffering and, more pain ful still, the dire humiliation! I wept, cried, shrieked, sobbed. I promised to be good and patient. I declared that not only would I never be annoyed again on account of a wret ched ball of paper soaked in spittle, but that they might spit upon my face and I would not mind. The beating continued pitilessly. I threw my head from side to side and stretched my back to the right and to the left in an effort to free myself. The handkerchief which bound me enabled Mrs. Stuart to resist all my struggles.
At length, Miss Sinclair ceased whipping I had to go on my knees at the side of the table to match Clara on the other side. The mirror showed my hinder parts to be covered with blood. Nor was I permitted to leave my position there before the end of lesson time. Meantime my posterior in its wretched plight was the cynosure of every mocking pupil's eye.