The next instalment of my collaboration with Posy Churchgate. The previous chapter is on Posy’s blog here
St. Faith’s School September 1952
I have never much liked the French. I have bitter memories of 1940 when their collapse left our country to fight on alone against Nazi Germany. I was a young House mistress at St. Faith’s in those days when we had to open our doors to evacuees from the East End of London and normal school was suspended. A couple of years later we had to close altogether after the buildings and grounds were requisitioned by the War Office. We returned to reopen the school in 1946 and I wept when I saw the state the school had been left in. I am sure things would have been different had we had a reliable ally. Not that I was surprised. My late father was a career army officer and he had a similarly low opinion of our neighbours from across the Straits of Dover. They are flashy, arrogant and deeply contemptuous of the British, not showing a hint of gratitude that we have twice this century saved them from the German brutes.
The new girl in the Lower Sixth embodies all the things I despise. Delphine de Lotbiniere is the daughter of an aristocrat who I had the pleasure, if you can call it such, of meeting when he came to visit the school last spring. He was a man of undoubted style but rather condescending. Unfortunately the school is not thriving and the opportunity of some rather good publicity could not be missed. So we now have his daughter in our care and she has not made a good start. She has a bad attitude and I intend to deal with this.
I had my first real encounter with her this afternoon. I teach games as I was quite a gifted sportswoman before the war. My favourite game is netball and under my regime at St.Faith’s we have the best school team in the county. All girls have to play, even French ones.
The girls lined up silently in the cold school gymnasium. Each was dressed in a white Aertex shirt, a green pleated skirt, dreary grey socks and plimsolls. Prison uniform I thought to myself as I walked up and down the line, saying nothing, feasting on their growing fear. I stopped in front of Lotbiniere and stood watching her intently for early a minute before saying
“We are playing netball this afternoon.”
“We don’t have this game in France” said Delphine with the kind of pout that makes me all the more determined to impose my will on a girl.
“I don’t suppose you do but we have it here and I am proud of the standard to which St. Faith’s girls play. It is a most English game and the girls and young women of our great country play it with spirit and pluck.”
She looked blankly at me. Her English was still not that good.
I reached into the sack with the positional bibs and found a particularly grubby red one for Mademoiselle. I handed it to her.
“Put this on.”
Delphine pouted again and pulled the bib over her head with obvious distaste.
“GA. What is that Madame?”
“It means Goal Attack, your position on the court girl.”
“I don’t know” . She looked at me almost pleadingly.
“Just make sure you are trying Lotbiniere. I will be watching you closely.”
I called the other girls over to choose their bibs and I soon had two times lined up on the court, blue and red. I blew my whistle and the game started.
I was watching Lotbiniere closely, how she wandered about the court lost, pout of position how she dropped the ball around the court lost, clearly not understanding the game. The second time she dropped a ball thrown to her by a team mate I blew the whistle and ordered the girls to line up.
“If there is one thing I cannot abide it is lack of effort. One of you has not been trying in this game. Lotbiniere step forward.”
There was an anxious silence in the gym as the French girl came to me.
“What have you got to say for yourself?”
“But Madame I do not know this game in France we..”
“I don’t care. I expect you to learn. I expect effort. On the floor.”
She looked at me blankly.
“On the floor. Now!”
She complied. I noticed her eyes getting moist and this spurred me on.
“Twenty pressups. Now! Move!”
Her pressups were slow and awkward, she was clearly not used to doing them. After the tenth I paid my right foot on her back and pushed down to make them even harder. After the twentieth she collapsed panting on the floor.
“That is a very poor effort Lotbiniere. You come here with your oh so French superiority and look at you. Remember that I am very inventive in my punishments and you will learn not to cross me. Norris, step forward!”
A freckled redhead stepped forward with a startled expression.
“Norris, I have had frequent occasion to punish you have I not?”
“And you have learnt from those punishments have you not?”
“Then tell the Countess, or whoever she thinks she is, that it would be better for her to change her attitude.”
“Oh Bin, you really need to do what Miss Ransome says. She is very strict and I don’t want you to go through what I have had to.”
“OK girls. Back in your positions.”
I blew my whistle and the game restarted. Lotbiniere was making more effort, running more, even catching balls and shooting for goal. She has sporting talent, it is clear, but a little beating and humiliation is clearly necessary to get her to use it.
Her first shot was a near miss. The second time, as she prepared to shoot, a defender pulled her ponytail. She dropped the ball and in a single movement, span round and slapped the girl across the face, before pushing her back until they were against the wall where Lotbiniere dug her nails into the other girl’s cheeks. The girl responded by pulling Lotbiere’s hair, some of which came off in her hands. I let them fight for a few moments, before blowing the whistle and marching across. I slapped the other girl across the face.
“Go and get changed. You will report to my study at 9 o’clock sharp tomorrow morning.”
As she ran off in tears I ordered the remaining girls to line up. I took Lotbiniere by the ear, twisting the lobe in my fingers so that she grimaced with pain. I paraded her up ad down the line of frightened, intimidated girls. We stopped for a few seconds in front of Norris who was shaking like a jelly.
“The Countess is, it seems, slow to learn. But she will learn, even if her schooldays are interminable days of suffering and misery. Some of you know what this means and you may wish to tell your friend Bin, as you call her, when you are all back on the dorm. I am going to make an example of her and her sufferings will be very public. Pour encourager les autres as the French say.”
I flashed her a mocking smile. I was quite proud of myself for thinking up that one.
“Lotbinere. Climb the wall bars, and turn round with your hands on the top bar.”
As she did so I watched the other girls. all of whom knew what was coming next. Norris was clearly struggling to hold back the tears.
Lotbiniere turned round awkwardly and clung on to the bars, her feet struggling for purchase on a lower bar, her torso thrust out, her boobs wobbling beneath her top as she struggled to hold on.
I watched her for a long moment then ordered her
“Drop your feet. You are going to hang there until the end of the lesson. And maybe you will learn this time.”
I blew my whistle and the game continued. But it was now played in a subdued atmosphere with all the girls glancing furtively across at the hanging, grimacing, crying Lotbinere.
After the game the girls filed out quietly back to the changing room. Lotbinere remained, hanging from the wall bars. Her arms were clearly hurting.
“Lotbiniere, you can come down now. Go and get changed. And I hope you have learnt your lesson.”
She flashed me a defiant look before running off to join the other girls in the changing room. The girl had spirit. There was no denying that. And that would make breaking her all the more satisfying.
(to be continued)
The next chapter will be posted on Posy Churchgate’s blog. I will link to it here when it is published.
This was also a post for Wicked Wednesday. Follow this link for more wickedness