The idea had been in the planning for a few weeks and originally we were looking forward to being joined by our friends Marlow and Lily. Unfortunately they had to drop out at the last minute and were much missed. (Don't worry Lily, I have it on good authority you'll be attending such a school in the near future!)
The premise of the school was that it would be harsh, both in discipline and in environment. A place where girls were sent far from home, and very rarely came back for a visit. My character, Victoria, was the longest in attendance (2 years), whereas Catherine (Jessamine) and Eliane's (Louisa) characters were fairly new.
This meant I was supposed to used to the routine of the school and already indoctrinated into the discipline. As I say in my character profile, it had originally taken me a whole to settle down.
Victoria is 15 years old and has been at the school 2 years. Arriving to her parents late in life, some 16 years after her older brother she was an almost unwelcome addition to their family life. Her Mother fancies herself nervous and never has had much time for her. Whilst her father is a very old fashioned sort who believes children should be seen and not heard of. A series of nannies and governesses looked after her until she was 13, and when the last governess left to get married her Father decided to send the young Victoria to the Simpson school, hearing of it through a partner in trade.
We began the scene at 10PM the night before, ordered to our rooms to change for bed and await an inspection. Having been given a poem to learn by lunch-time the following day the masters, Mr Simpson and Mr Jenkins, found 3 girls diligently learning their lines when they came to inspect us. My first punishment was quick to fall; for reciting the words of the poem to myself when I should have been silently in line. It set the context for the rest of the roleplay. Every infraction, no matter how minor was dealt with, severely. Jess and I were whipped at 7AM the next morning; for not standing at the side of our beds when the masters entered the room. And at breakfast, which I had cooked, I was given 6 strokes of the tawse on my hands for forgetting to put milk on the table.Settling down to school was something of an ordeal for young Victoria who is very proud and was used to the comforts of home and having her own servants and governesses to entertain her and stimulate her. She finds the pace of the lessons too slow and the masters too fastidious. And whilst she has learned it's best not to complain about the school, and is generally an obedient pupil, her quick temper and pride can often lead her to trouble. The masters have learned that she responds well to the rod. She has been home once a year, at Christmas, since joining the school and her Father is much impressed by the perceived steadying of her character.
It was an amazing headspace for me. Everyone was fully in role all the time. Even when we girls were alone. I spoke as the girl who had been at the school longest, advising on how to stay out of trouble, telling of goings- on in the past.. Whilst Jess regaled us with the stories of her running away to join a theatre group and Louisa was pitied for the fact her doting parents had no idea as to the type of establishment they had sent her to.
My headspace was compounded by the subjects we had to undertake. Victoria was very careful and obedient, but needlework and handwriting were beyond her and led to much trouble. For me, EJ, it was incredibly hot to be beaten for something I had actually tried really hard at but still didn't come up to standard.
Although my cross-stich so little resembled the pattern I was supposed to be following that it provoked Mr Simpson to ask me what part of the pattern my piece corresponded to as he was having difficulty orientating himself. This resulted in the other girls bursting into laughter and even I joined in nervously; a big mistake. The others were thrashed for undue levity: I was thrashed firstly for the laughter and then again for poor work!
It was also very head spacey to have to cook a generous breakfast of bacon and eggs for the masters but eat only gruel and water with the other girls. And asking the masters if we might have honey with our gruel, given it was Easter Sunday, was a very humiliating experience, not far off that which Oliver himself endured.
And even at the things I was good at, reading, comprehension and learning by rote, nerves led me to fail. I was spanked for stumbling over my reading of the Encyclopedia Britannica. (An 18th century edition with S's disguised as Fs!) Following that I was was once more tawsed on the hands for not being able to answer all the questions correctly in the comprehension I was set to read, tears in my eyes as I was lectured once again on my lack of diligence.
Even on the prescribed poem ('When we two parted', by Byron) I also failed. Having managed to learn it the night before, I was reciting it to the other girls perfectly all morning; I can say it perfectly even now! But in front of the masters I stumbled over it, ending up in tears of shame. My subsequent birching, 24 strokes, was given for letting myself down and failing to set an example to the new girls.
When the scene ended I dropped like a stone. As long as it had been, it wasn't long enough. So that evening when it was just Catherine, Abel, HH and I left, we decided to revive the school for a further scene; a more severe one. The background being that Jess had sneaked out to meet the boy she had run away to the theatre to be with. As she was going to be at the school for at least 5 years it would be a rare opportunity to see him. Given how close we had become, and that I had access to the kitchen door key on Sunday mornings, I aided the rendezvous.
Alas Jess was caught with her beau, and my part in the mischief was soon discovered. We were ordered to wait in our room until summoned to the punishment room. We sat nervously holding hands, worrying aloud as to our fate. The beautiful part of this for me was once again how in role we were. Jess lamented never seeing her beau again and apologised for getting me into trouble. I in turn told her of what I knew of other such punishments that has passed in the school. How they always happened late at night so all the other girls would hear us cry. We both resolved to try and be brave so as not to scare the little ones too much. With little comfort to offer each other we were shaking with fear by the time we were called for.
Jessamine was called forward first, scolded bitterly, then ordered to raise her skirts and lie over the punishment block. Helplessly I watched them tie her down and Mr Jenkins fetch his heavy tawse. She cried out as the first stroke landed heavily on her bottom. By 6 strokes she was begging, by 12 she was crying. I watched in terror. He was getting progressively harder and the sound of the tawse hitting her was unbearable.
When they turned to me and told me that if I had been a good and honourable friend I could have prevented this, the tears came into my own eyes. Jess's punishment (30 severe strokes or more) was the hardest one I EJ, have ever watched Catherine take. Not physically, but mentally. She was Jess, and they were breaking her. Afterwards I reflected on how amazing it was to see Cath go so deep in a scene that she was properly crying and begging a few strokes in.
When my turn came I was ordered to remove my bloomers and tied face down on the block, as Jess had been. My guilt at causing her punishment was magnified as I was scolded for abusing the trust placed in me. Mr Jenkins then took up the birch, told me coldly that the 24 I had had previously would seem like nothing in comparison and began to beat me with all his might.
For Victoria it was a horrific beating, like nothing she'd ever felt. For me, EJ it was as severe as the spray birch sessions I've had at my judicials. I was not prepared for the pace and the pain that rained down. When he finally stopped I was close to fainting, with heat and pain. A cold face cloth was brought to revive me and the window was opened for some air. I waited to be let down. Except it wasn't over with. He switched sides and began again, just as fast, just as hard, just as many. I buried my head in my hands and clung on for dear life. Victoria scared and repentant. EJ shocked to be beaten so hard by Abel.
When HH proclaimed that was enough and I could get down, I did so weakly. Unable to stand I sat gingerly on the chair as they gave Jess her second punishment. This time she was tied face up on the table. In confusion I watched as they raised her skirt above her knickers. When Mr Simpson raised the birch and rested it on her thighs my stomach churned in realisation of what they were doing. Jess started to beg even before the birch was raised. When it smacked down she screamed into her hands. And thus it continued, relentlessly, until she was once again crying and begging for mercy.
Again it was very difficult to watch. Finally she was taken down and ordered to stand beside me. In shock I realised I now was being called forward again. (For some reason I had assumed I was done with!) Mr Simpson told me coldly that this was not my fate, but I had involved myself and would suffer the same as Jess. Ordered into the same position. I felt sick. Victoria was terrified, but I EJ was even more so. I'd never been birched on the thighs before.
He asked if I needed to be restrained, I shook my head. With my bloomers removed and my skirt above my waist I was completely bare and at the mercy of the birch wherever it struck. The strokes were slow and measured and stung like hell, building all the time into agony. The fear of waiting for it to fall, worrying it would land too high, was almost as bad as the pain of sensitive, rarely touched flesh feeling the cruel sting. It wasn't long before I was crying and begging for it to end. He finally pronounced 4 more and I screamed quietly into my hands for each one.
It was a dark and severe scene and the absolute perfect end to our Yorkshire School. HH and Abel were both amazing and shocking as Victorian School master and Cath and Eliane were wonderful schoolmates. But the enduring memory for me was seeing Cath broken as a character; broken by headspace, not pain.