Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012 -

Underwood Hall

by Lucy Appleby
Published: Dec 21, 2012
Words: 12,815
Category: general
Orientation: M/F
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June, 1868

"Silence! To your seats, girls." Miss Beatrice Underwood glared at the assembled throng, which in brief moments transformed itself from a melee of discordant voices and heels clattering on the stone-flagged floor, to comparative quiet and order.

Discipline prevailed in this establishment. The girls sat erect in dresses of coarse grey fabric and white pinafores. Each girl wore thick woollen stockings and ungainly stout shoes, fastened with brass buckles. All had their hair scraped firmly back from their temples, with not a single curl visible to soften the sobriety. Two rows of angular straw bonnets, their calico strings tied neatly in a bow under the chin, faced the all-seeing pebble eyes of the dour Miss Underwood.

Lessons commenced in the customary fashion. Miss Underwood paced the floor, a sombre figure in her swishy black taffeta skirts, her iron grey hair swept up into a top knot. She carried a heavy tawse and did not hesitate to use it most forcefully on the hands, thighs or buttocks of any girl who gave an incorrect answer. She was truly formidable, her gaunt pale face bereft of humour, her lips puckered in contempt when confronted with any semblance of stupidity. She was intolerant of unseemly behaviour and even the smallest lapse in concentration. Nor did the tiniest detail of personal appearance go unnoticed.

"Archer. You disagreeable, dirty girl! Your nails are filthy. Go and stand in the corner at once. Mr Underwood will deal with you."

Mary Archer blanched visibly, and walked reluctantly to the far corner of the room. Without further instruction she faced the wall, her hands clasped on the top of her head.

She was soon joined by another miscreant, Sarah MacDonald, guilty of the crime of gazing longingly out of the window instead of paying attention to the conjugation of French verbs. By the end of the afternoon, the far wall had the attentions of five wayward young ladies, all experiencing various degrees of fear, humiliation and a resigned acceptance of their fate.

When the five o'clock bell sounded, those girls fortunate enough not to be standing in the corner filed out of the room and made their way to the refectory for tea. The five remaining girls shuffled uneasily.

"Be still!" commanded Miss Underwood. "I am going to fetch Mr Underwood." She strode out of the room, leaving the five girls to wait nervously for the arrival of her brother, Mr William Underwood, a fine upstanding and moral pillar of society, and founder of Underwood Hall: Corrective Institution for Wayward Young Ladies.

His footsteps echoed ominously from the corridor. The girls began to fidget uneasily, their faces anxious. From previous experience, they knew what to expect, and it would not be pleasant. Mr Underwood entered the room, and closed the door behind him.