"I thought you would want to open this one for yourself, Mrs Williams." The Deputy Head looked up with a start - she hadn't noticed that Miss Miles had entered her study. The secretary had placed a large parcel on the desk in front of her.
She felt a flare of irritation. There were accounts to balance and opening post was what Alice Miles was employed to do. Then she noticed the postmark.
"Lochgelly," Alice Miles said, with a shy smile. "It's a town in Fife, Headmistress..."
"Thank you, Alice, I'm well aware of where Lochgelly is," said Mrs Williams. "I have no need of a geography lesson."
She took up the parcel and felt its weight. She had been expecting it all summer and finally it had arrived. As she stood holding the package she found herself thinking about that dark January day.
It had been humiliating. Pupils had run riot, refusing orders and making ridiculous demands - and she had been powerless to do anything about it.
Certainly, the ringleaders on the boys' side had been properly dealt with. She had made a point of passing the Headmaster's study when those canings had been taking place. But the Education Committee's rules were clear - no corporal punishment for girls.
" Mrs Williams?"
"Sorry... oh, yes, thank you Alice," she said, taking the offered scissors and bringing them to bear on the parcel's brown wrapping paper. The wrong-headed ban on proper punishment for girls was a relatively recent development.
In fact, Alice Miles was a perfect example of how effective a proper disciplinary regime could be. Now a competent secretary of 23, she had been a pert, disobedient pupil until Mrs Williams had arrived at Park Road. Judicious application of slipper and strap had put Alice onto the right course.
Inside the brown paper was a neat, little wooden box with a hinged lid. She was rather pleased with the box and thought it would look very smart on her desk, although she might have to ask the woodwork department to stain it to match the mahogany.
As she lifted the lid she heard Alice Miles give a little gasp, even though they had both known what was inside. "Brings back fond memories, does it Alice?" She asked. In response Alice Miles smiled and blushed, but decided to keep her thoughts to herself.
The six brand, spanking new tawses inside would revoluntionise life at Park Road, Mrs Williams thought. One for each of the year heads of the girls' side of the school and one to keep in its box in her study.
For most pupils the knowledge that Mrs Williams had that tawse in her study and was prepared to use it would be enough to keep them on the straight and narrow. But there were always some - girls like Alice once was - who would only take heed after they had been given a sore bottom.
Mrs Williams took one of the straps out of the box and ran it through her fingers. It was heavy and thick and the leather was quite stiff; it would soften up nicely through use, she decided.
"It would be useful to have a few practice swings," she said. "Alice, care to oblige?"
The secretary squealed, put her hands to the seat of her skirt and took a couple of hasty steps to the door. Her boss' sense of humour was very dry, so she wasn't entirely sure if she was joking or not.
At the door Alice paused. "Would you like the list, Mrs Williams?"
"I'd have to check, but I think it's about 43," Alice Miles replied. The Deputy Head continued running the strap across her palm before smacking it down smartly on her open hand.
The noise of the impact made Alice Miles jump. Mrs Williams mouthed an "ow" at the smart of it and pondered how much weight and heft she would have to put into a swing to maximise the lesson it would deliver via a Sixth Former's bare behind.
"First five of them today at 4pm then, please," she said. "Three dozen each. And I'll have five a night until there's tick against each and every name on that list."
I came across this amazing newspaper cutting at the fascinating Corpun site yesterday and have been playing with the story ever since. Well worth a read.