It was the night before Christmas

24Dec13

caned nunSister Mercy, her jaw set tight, was wringing her hands. Before her the young novice Maria was naked and kneeling at the block while Sub-Prioress Augusta laced her upturned bare bottom with a long thin switch.

The once smooth rounds of the errant girl were now rilled and purple red with welts as she gasped and yelped under the assault.

“This is how you do it, this and this,” Augusta snapped as she laid on stroke after stroke, only pausing to include Sister Mercy in her ire. “I don’t know what in our Lord’s name you were doing. You are not here to tickle them.”

Sister Mercy blushed and went on wringing her hands. She so hated to get things wrong, but although she knew the novices would come to no real harm and that the corrections were good for them she hadn’t in her heart to treat them as was needful.

Also watching the chastisement was a row of near naked novices shivering in both apprehension and cold in the unheated cloister. Even Sister Mercy could feel the hard chill of the stone beneath her sandals and heaven alone knew how the winter bit at the bare feet of these girls.

At least the girls who had already been attended to by Augusta had something to warm them. Mercy looked over at the row of welted bare bottoms, all a rash now with hard purple and blue-black welts that no woman could sit upon until New Year.

Oh but when the bell sounded they would have to, Mercy winced, remembering how it was not so long ago when she too had been under the switch; the same switch that bit down yet again and then some more as Maria clung on to the wooden block doing the dance of pain. Mercy grimaced; some of the welts were by now looking quite raw.

“This is how you do it, this, can’t you see?” Augusta continued to rage as she whipped the girl. “Then if you have a mind to, switch them all again. It is twice the contrition for twice the lashing, don’t you see?”

Mercy wondered if Augusta had ever felt the switch, but of course she had, probably worse than she administered. That was the nature of the order.

“Alright girl, I haven’t got all night,” Augusta said at last, “Get up and go to face the wall.”

Maria’s tears burbled like a brook and as she gained her feet she hunched into herself, singing a wordless song of pain as she went. Then cowed, she tottered gingerly over to the wall to stand next to her fellow novices.

Mercy remembered the searing burn of such times and how cleansed she was when it was over and she could face the wall in contemplation. She hadn’t resented old Sister Nome then as she did the sub-Prioress on the girls’ behalf. No doubt she was weak as Augusta said she was.

“Next girl,” Augusta bellowed.

And a small dark woman scurried forward and woefully bent across the block. Her big bottom was already speckled with brown and yellow spots from a thrashing at some point in the recent past. But that did not deter the girl from sticking her bottom right up as she had been trained. Such a good girl, Mercy thought ruefully. She is more accepting than I perhaps.

*

“It is quiet out of the question,” the Mother Superior said as she looked doubtfully at the snow.

“But Mother,” Sister Mercy said, wringing her hands, “The people of the village… they will need those things… it’s Christmas.”

“Christmas indeed,” Mother sighed, her eyes rolling up as they might have done when she was still a novice. “The villagers would better spend their time on their knees in prayer rather than feasting.”

It was true that the weather was hard upon them and snow drifts that had stubbornly held at a yard deep were now rolling into low hills to obscure the track to the village. Mercy looked at the dejected faces of the novices she had gathered to help her, both had been as eager as she to go to the villagers’ aid.

“But Mother…” Mercy tried once more.

“You foolish girl, hold your tongue,” Augusta snapped at her, “Mother has spoken.”

“Yes Augusta,” Mercy groaned, “Yes Mother.”

*

The three of them found the going hard, especially ladened down with chickens and hams for the village feast. But it was not as hard going as it had been now that the Lord had seen fit to send a break in the weather. And certainly not as hard as it would have been on the villagers had they not made the attempt.

But Mercy had thought it prudent not to ask Mother again. After all, had He not sent the break in the weather? No, better to take the sign and not trouble her superiors with it; the burden was hers and not for them.

Behind her Catherine and Jessica laboured with her, their steps finding an easier footfall where Mercy had trod before. Just like King Wenceslas, Mercy thought, how appropriate.

*

“You did what?” Augusta was seething.

It wasn’t quite the response Mercy had been looking for.

“Mother said she would pray for me,” Mercy offered, “She didn’t seem mad at all.”

It was true. Mother had just rolled her eyes and shrugged. As she had walked away she had muttered something like, “I don’t know what we are going to do about that…”

Mercy assumed Mother was pleased and had gone away to think on what other worthy tasks she set her.

“Mother didn’t seem…? You are mad, I am mad, you have driven me mad,” Augusta raged.

“Oh I am sorry,” Mercy frowned, “I had just assumed…”

Augusta sucked in air through her nose.

“If you are going to behave like a novice then I will treat you as one,” Augusta said finally, “Now disrobe.” To the two novices she barked, “You too.”

In a moment Mercy, Catherine and Jessica were naked. The only thing now that separated them was that where the novices had shoulder length hair, one red and the other blonde, Mercy had her hair non-descript dark blonde shorn to her scalp. They were even all close together in age.

“You,” Augusta snarled at Jessica, the tall blonde girl, pointing at the block with her switch, “Over.”

Jessica put her nose in the air for a moment and then almost proudly she walked to the block and surrendered herself like Lady Jane in the famous painting. In her mind no doubt she was a martyr, having done no more than bring succour to the village. But in half a minute with a dozen scores across her bare bottom she was free of such pretensions and bawling like a new girl.

Augusta knew well how to humble the proud.

The sub-Prioress was in no hurry and the switching lasted longer than Maria’s earlier that day. The girl would be hands-under -thighs for days when she tried to sit for meal times, or Augusta was no punisher. Augusta remembered being a novice and the trick of sitting on her thighs to keep her bottom off the hard bench with her hands. It was the dickens if she was caught. Not sitting-up during grace was a mortal sin. Perhaps she would catch the girl out and give her another lesson later this week. A hard lesson, but someone had to do it.

Finally broken and sobbing, Jessica placed herself against the wall while Catherine took her turn.

“This is all my doing,” Mercy said, wringing her hands.

“Sister Mercy,” Augusta sighed, “Has anyone ever told you how really wet you are?”

Catherine fared no better than Jessica and if the truth were told, much worse, for she howled to rival the storm and lashed at the floor with her hair in her struggles.

Later the novices were both dismissed. Taking slow painful steps they eased their way to their cells while the now guilt-ridden and un-whipped Mercy looked on.

“Now,” Augusta said sharply, “Get your bottom over that block, we have much to do and I want to be abed before midnight.”

Mercy swallowed. She had switching coming no doubt, but midnight was hours away, Augusta could just as easily have said she wanted to be abed by 10 and still leave an age.

Augusta tapped the wooden block and scowled at her.

At first the worst part was the hard floor under her knees. That was less comfortable than even the cold rough wood under her belly. But she was able to help her legs by putting weight on the flat side of her arms down to her elbows and steady herself with her hands on the floor. This pushed her bottom up to point at the ceiling, an indignity she was pleased the novices had not seen.

All this trivia ran through her mind until the sword of justice cleaved her in two and she screamed. The white hot line was as the fire of hell across her stone cold bottom and far worse than she remembered. But that was not the worst of her trials. Augusta did not pause but laid on another swipe and then one more as she had so often promised.

“Do you feel that and that and that,” Augusta yelled, “You foolish girl, when will you learn? When will you learn?”

Mercy, already rasping with breath, squealed in an un-sisterly manner and slapped at the floor with her hands for some relief.

“Next time I tell you to whip a girl, you will do it well or I will do it for you and then whip you,” Augusta barked, “Do you hear?”

With each word a blow fell, but after a moment the sub-prioress saved her breath for the long, long task in hand.

*

Mercy walked as hobbled all the way to her cell. Each step a flare in her bottom as each line of fire reignited. At least I was not left to the cloister floor or wall until matins, she thought ruefully. Then finally reaching her cell she eyed the scourge on the wall with regret. Tonight she would have no need of it.

Then lowering herself face down on her cot she pondered on the difficulty of scourging one’s own bottom and regretted the departure of Sister Claire who aided her in such regard. Perhaps… yes, she smiled; Augusta may be of help here. But willingly or unwittingly, there was the rub. Mercy would pray on it. Then she lowered herself carefully onto her front to listen to the midnight bell that heralded Christmas Day.

“Thank you,” she whispered, both she and the village had their gift.

Merry Christmas.



5 Responses to “It was the night before Christmas”

  1. Great little story.

  2. 2 Scarlet

    Sword of justice! I’ll remember that line. 🙂

  3. 3 paul1510

    Damian,
    there is a certain type of nun that still gives me nightmares, that Sub-Prioress is one such. 😛
    That said, a great story. 🙂
    A merry Christmas to you and yours.
    Paul.

  4. 4 DJ

    Thanks 🙂

  5. I agree with everybody and another one well doneDJ.
    DeborahGifford


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