Lucy and her mother enjoyed a very good and close relationship, joined by a bond that had undergone rapid enforced strengthening six years earlier, with the sudden and tragic loss of her father in a sailing accident. Both mother and daughter had endured agonies that were different, but that shared strong common threads, yet the experience had actually served to create a closeness between them that few people ever enjoy.

Strong though this bond was, Lucy was fully aware that what she was about to ask of her mother could well subject their mutual trust and understanding to severe testing. However, if there was one quality that shone out of this 22-year old girl it was a sense of determination and a reluctance to be deflected from her path once her mind had been made up. On this particular matter, her mind had been set in reinforced concrete for a couple of weeks, ever since the two women had walked the paths of reminiscence together, culminating in Jade, Lucy’s mother, recounting her university days and the thoughts that had gone through her mind whilst she got to grips with the changes she was about to face as her university days ended.

Most of what her mother had said struck a chord with Lucy, but one snippet of information had really caught her attention and, despite Jade’s objections, Lucy had teased a detailed account out of her mother relating to an incident that had happened during her last week at university. There had been a general sense of relief that the examinations were all over and the girls at her single-sex university had all been letting off steam in a variety of ways, most of which were little more than youthful high jinks. Jade, however, had allowed herself to be led along a route she would not normally have taken and had fallen in with a small group of girls who had a well-earned reputation for mischief and pranks. All of them were strong characters and all had, in fact, gone on to make a great success of their professional and social lives. Indeed, at Jade and Lucy’s darkest hour, they had all rallied round instantly, compliant husbands willingly at their sides, to provide the material, practical and emotional support that the two bereft women had needed.

There is a certain headiness that accompanies the lifting of a great burden and there is a great temptation to take flight. Jade, Janice, Maria, Sarah and Valentine had succumbed to this temptation with just a little too much enthusiasm and, as tends to happen at higher altitudes, they had become somewhat light-headed – under the catalytic influence of a substantial intake of alcohol at a tavern in the neighbouring village – and they had ended up in Police custody, facing the possibility of charges for public order offences.

Relations between Jade’s university and the local constabulary had always been good and when Miss Walker arrived to speak to Officer Doe, the matter had been resolved fairly quickly, with an assurance that the landlord of the village hostelry would be reimbursed fully for his losses resulting from the girls’ creative activities. The sergeant was also given a very firm undertaking by Miss Walker that the matter would be dealt with fairly and swiftly under the university’s disciplinary procedures. Thus it was that Miss Walker and three very silent passengers set off through the small hours of the morning, back towards the university, followed by Officer Doe with two equally silent girls sitting in the back of his unmarked vehicle.

The Headmistress’ telephone had been extremely busy between nine a.m. and the ten o’clock summons for the five girls to attend her in the Study. During that time, she had spoken to five very displeased parents and had received their full backing for what she intended to do in order to deal with the matter swiftly and effectively.

Promptly at ten a.m., a quiet knock on the door announced the arrival of the five culprits, who were summoned into the Study and lined up in front of the heavy walnut desk that dominated the end of the room by the French windows, which looked out onto the Headmistress’ private garden, surrounded by a fairly high privet hedge that ensured total privacy for anyone enjoying the rose-beds …. or summoned into the Study.

Miss Walker was held in very high regard and warmly respected, even loved, by the great majority of the pupils at the university, which she ran on the principles of fairness and mutual respect. The five girls standing in front of her, somewhat the worse for wear following their adventures on the previous evening, were part of that majority and there was a very genuine expression of contrition and penitence discernible in the row of five uncustomarily subdued faces.

All five girls knew full well what was to come and it was, therefore, no surprise when, after their ready acknowledgment of their stupidity and of the consequences of their actions to innocent people, Jade, Janice, Maria and Sarah were ordered out into the corridor, leaving Valentine alone with Miss Walker.

The four girls huddled together and even shivered slightly, despite the warmth of the day, as they waited in the sombre oak-paneled corridor for their respective appointments with retribution.

It was a few moments before the muffled sound of the first crack brought their minds collectively back into focus and they joined hands, in mutual support, and in sympathy for Valentine.

Five further identical sounds emerged through the padded oak door before it opened and a tearful Valentine emerged, leaving the door open and nodding to Janice to indicate that it was her turn. As soon as the door had closed again, Valentine leaned against Jade, put her arms around her neck and cried softly. Jade’s instinct was to attempt to soothe her, but she wisely thought better of it just as the first stroke of Janice’s punishment found its mark.

Thus the disciplinary process continued, with Maria and Sarah following Janice, in turn, to face Miss Walker .. and, ultimately, her desk.

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