The girl with two plaits
Her name was Mary and she was the teacher’s favourite. She would cough when other children misbehaved and, if the teacher’s back was turned, he would turn around to see just what was going on. On one occasion the teacher had caught Harry’s best friend, Tom, hiding a pencil case that belonged to one of the girls. That morning there had been no break for Tom and when Harry had stood outside and peered in through the classroom window, there was Tom cutting up sheets of waste paper for the teacher. It was not fair. Tom was the best football player in the class and without him playground football was not much fun.
The boys disliked Mary, and there were times when they were almost frightened by her. She was taller than anyone else in the class. She had broad shoulders and they knew that she had strong arms for they had seen her smack one of the boys across the mouth during a row at the back of the playground, away from the teachers and the playground supervisor.
The trouble was, their teacher always seemed to believe her when she drew his attention to something they should not have been doing. Then he would shout at them, and sometimes he would punish them. Then she would look at them as if to say, told you so, and she would turn abruptly away, having delivered her warning. As she did this she would snatch her head around as she looked for something else that required her attention and her long plaits would fly out. They were like two lengths of thin, black rope that settled down over her shoulders and hung down her back. Level below her waist were the two ribbons, always red.
Harry could see her plaits now, fidgeting every time she moved, or easing themselves around the bar across the back of her chair. It reminded him of something he had seen in an old-fashioned western film, a cowboy dismounting from his horse then turning towards its head and looping the reins around a bar. The horse tried to move away, but the knotted reins held it and it gave up.
When he leant forwards Harry could reach the nearest plait, the one that had swung itself out beyond the back of the chair. With his right foot he pushed himself further forwards and reached down until he felt the ribbon of the other plait. Gently, he drew it below the bar of the chair towards its twin; the knot would have to be small, pulled tight under the bar at the back of her chair. Then he sat back, turned and smiled to a friend who had been watching, then lifted a finger to his lips. Then they waited.
It was not long before Mary noticed something for their teacher’s attention. For a moment her cough failed to attract his attention and so she pointed towards one of the boys who was eating some stolen sweets and rose up in her….
They said afterwards that Mary’s scream could be heard out at the far end of the playground. This was a long time ago and as a consequence, Harry found himself bending over to be caned. There were six blows and a powerful stinging sensation that endured for the rest of the morning, but whenever Harry spoke of this episode he always said how much the pain had been worth it.
What do you think gave Harry the idea of his punishment for Mary?
Should Harry have tied up Mary’s plaits?