The strange future of Anne Solmes was decided in an instant, on the night of October 21, 1864, when her governess Miss Plympton discovered her in the throes of passionate self-pleasure, with her shift raised to her hips and her naughty fingers at play in the little grotto between her thighs that Miss Plympton had often instructed her she must not touch. Anne stood before her mirror, by candlelight, up far past her bedtime. A little cry she could not suppress, as she pushed her fingers in where they must not go, alerted Miss Plympton, reading edifying religious pamphlets in her own room just next to Anne’s, to the necessity of intervention.
If Miss Plympton had been a different sort of person, the discovery of Anne’s lewd practices might not have resulted in such drastic action. But Miss Plympton’s character had a very religious bent. Moreover, Miss Plympton’s parents had beaten into her at an early age the firm precept that the parts of generation constituted a source of unremitting evil. The governess therefore immediately awoke Anne’s parents in their bed, all the while scolding her pupil in a voice loud enough that all the servants could hear, and in such explicit terms that no doubt could exist as to the crime in which their young lady had just been discovered.
“In front of your mirror, no less!” Miss Plympton shouted. “With your wicked hands in the devil’s playground! Looking at what you were doing! I have never even heard of something so lascivious, and I have been a governess these twenty years!”
When Standish and Prudence Solmes awoke, Miss Plympton stood Anne at the end of their bed and commanded, “You just tell your poor parents what I found you doing.” But Anne found herself unable to say a word. She could only shake her head and weep.
At that, Miss Plympton pushed firmly upon the fair-haired Anne’s shoulders, bending her over the foot of the bed until her elbows rested upon it. Her hairbrush was in her hand, and she raised Anne’s shift and began to spank her forcefully and quickly. “That doesn’t feel as nice, does it?” Miss Plympton said, over Anne’s cries and sobs. “There you go, you little hussy! There you go! How do you like the consequences of your voluptuous little performance, miss? Are you going to tell your poor parents what you did?”
“Please!” Anne screamed. “Please don’t make me!”
“What is the meaning of this?” asked the mystified Standish Solmes. He believed very strongly in the maintenance of discipline in his home, and in general he approved heartily of the way Miss Plympton chastised Anne for the slightest infraction with the greatest severity—often including the strap and the cane in addition to her trusty hairbrush. But to be awakened in the middle of the night, and made to watch Miss Plympton punish Anne thus, seemed a little excessive.
“You won’t even give your parents that little bit of respect, girl?” Miss Plympton said sternly. “Mr. Solmes,” she said, ceasing the spanking for the moment. “I am a decent woman, and I am afraid I must submit my resignation.”
She brought the hairbrush down again, to punctuate her words. “Your. Daughter’s. Lewd. Conduct does not befit a woman of. The. Town! Let alone a girl of her station.”
“Please, Miss Plympton!” Anne screamed. “I’m sorry!”
Miss Plympton stopped spanking again, but only, apparently, so that she could concentrate on delivering her wrathful message to Standish. “When it gets about what I found her doing, my reputation will be ruined as well, but so great is my love of virtue that I will not hesitate! Any suitor for Miss Solmes’ hand, I can assure you, will have the knowledge that your daughter cannot restrain herself from lewd practices that should send her to a reformatory school, if you will take my advice. A regular, healthy dose of the cane is the only thing for her, but with such a girl one doubts that even daily thrashing will help. Whether they can cure her or not, though, at least she will receive the punishment she deserves for shaming you so!”
Miss Plympton took eighteen-year-old Anne by the ear, then, and began to lead her out of her parents’ bedchamber. “I shall strap her well, now, Mr. Solmes, but that will be the last thing I do as your employee. If you take my advice, you will send for the doctor in the morning, and pack her off to a place where they can whip some modesty into her!”
Standish Solmes looked down at his wife. Prudence’s face wore an expression of terrible apprehension. He could not think of anything to say: there seemed no way to avert the disaster that had fallen upon their family.
From down the hall came the sound of Miss Plympton scolding Anne, and then the crack of the strap upon Anne’s undoubtedly bare backside: the governess always positioned Anne on her belly, atop her bed, for the punishment of greater offenses, so that she could swing the strap downward with the utmost force. Anne began to scream in her pain, and Standish could see in his wife’s eyes that she felt, as he did, that sometimes discipline could go too far.
“Perhaps we should not have engaged Miss Plympton,” Prudence said with a quaver in her voice.
“Do not blame yourself, my dear,” Standish replied. “She came highly recommended.”
“But it was I who pressed you to engage her.”
“True, my dear. But I was the one to encourage her to flog Anne frequently.”
Down the hall, Anne shrieked, “Please! I’ll never do it again!” and Miss Plympton shouted, “I wish I could believe that, you wicked girl,” and the strap’s sharp visit made itself heard again.
“Is she ruined?” Prudence whispered. “Surely other girls… that is to say, I am told…”
“Whether the conduct in which Miss Plympton discovered her is as wicked as Miss Plympton thinks is unfortunately not of any moment, now, Prudence,” Standish said sadly. “Miss Plympton is a respected governess, with the ear of a great many matrons. We must wait and see; perhaps it will blow over.”
Then they lay there, unable to sleep and unable to speak with one another, listening to their daughter receive her terrible reward for her illicit pleasure.