This is the final part of the Riding School story which I was going to schedule while we were away but decided not to.
It's rather long but hope you enjoy it.......
"So that's confirmed then, Miss Robbins, 8.00am a fortnight this Saturday and Mr van Eyck said he'll be looking forward to putting you through your paces."
I could hardly believe I was doing it, I hadn't told the girl this visit wasn't in connection with my job but the truth was my editor had lost interest, decided there wasn't anything juicy enough to justify my further paid time and expenses. This visit was private.
I asked her if I should wear any particular clothing but she just told me casually to bring my normal riding gear. I didn't like to tell her my normal riding gear was likely to consist of jeans and a t-shirt, I mean I hadn't ridden for years and even then I'd never kitted out properly. I thanked her and told her I'd be there. When I put the phone down I stomped the floor and scrunched my fists up, I'd done it! I was going back, I was excited as well as nervous at the prospect and for just over two weeks I think it played on my mind more than anything else.
When the day came I was up at 6.00am, showered, hair washed, Standing in front of the mirror my Pepe jeans on. Polo t shirt laid out on the bed which I thought was appropriate, sports bra which I knew might show my nipples and several pairs of knickers all of which I had tried on, turning and twisting this way and that before deciding which were most suitable. Suitable for what, I thought to myself as I dabbed perfume here and there, I mean I was going to a country riding stable for goodness sake, horseflesh, manure, sweat, country air and all that and there was me fussing about knickers and perfume. I was too nervous for breakfast, I just had juice and coffee, besides the Pepe jeans were new and a tight fit and I thought a bowl of cereal might make me uncomfortable. Stupid me, I should have swapped the Pepes for a well worn pair of Levis and had the breakfast.
I left home just after 7.00am, smelling like I would for a night on the pull, dressed in my finest posh casual, I took a small travel bag with me with a spare shirt, towel, second choice knickers and some drinking water. With only light traffic on a Saturday morning I entered the school drive twenty minutes early.
I remembered the trees, the morning sun filtered weakly through their dense foliage, there was no one riding. Perhaps I'd got the wrong day, perhaps I should turn round at the end of the drive and go back home, I could call and apologise, say my editor had an urgent last minute job for me. Then I was in the clearing and bright sunlight at the end of the leafy tunnel and a smiling girl waved to me, I'd been recognised, too late to turn round. I thought about calling her over and explaining that I'd just had an urgent phone call and needed to leave immediately and could she please apologise to Mr van Eyck for me, but she was running up towards the car anyway, pointing to where I should park. It was Joanna, the girl I'd interviewed, she was so bright and welcoming I wanted to get out of the car and give her a hug and ask her how she was and how things were going but I didn't. Instead I let the window down, cowardice was getting the better of me, I was about to utter my pathetic story about the urgent phone call when a black Range Rover pulled into the clearing. It was Mr van Eyck.
"Miss Robbins!" He beamed as he climbed down from his vehicle. "How lovely to see you again, I'm so glad you decided to come and join us." He took my hand as I got out of my little Volvo and nodded approvingly as he noticed my travel bag. "Excellent," he said, "Joanna will show you where to change, plenty of time, beautiful morning." And then he was off, I noticed he was already wearing jodhpurs and riding boots and he made an imposing figure as he strode across the gravel towards the office building adjacent to the stables.
Joanna took me by the arm. "Come on, I'll show you the dressing rooms," she said and we followed Mr van Eyck to the office building, taking a right turn once inside along a short corridor which led to a large girls changing room with showers and toilets. There was similar facility for boys on the other side of the building, she told me, but it didn't get used much. Joanna opened a locker for me and told me I could leave my clothes in it and keep the key although the risk of theft was virtually nil. She seemed surprised when I told her I didn't have to change, just my travel bag and handbag to store. "Oh dear no, Sir won't like that, someone will be in trouble, let's see what I can find," and off she went leaving me on my own and hoping it wasn't me in trouble.
Joanna returned a few moments later, a bundle of clothing over her left arm and a pair of riding boots and helmet dangling from her hand. "Try these on," she said, "I'm about your size, they should fit." I told her I couldn't possibly take her gear even though it was a very kind thought but Joanna insisted, saying they were a spare set she'd just fetched from her car. She then opened her own locker to show me was telling the truth. "And in any case I'm not riding this morning, Caroline is using my pony, in fact she should be out there already but that's another story." I was finally convinced and accepted her offer gratefully, kicking off my trainers and wriggling out of my jeans in favour of Joanna's jodhpurs, jacket and boots.
There was a knock on the door before we could chat much, Joanna shouted come in and Mr van Eyck entered the changing room, two crops in his left hand left hand, his right arm extending towards me, his head bowed theatrically. "Come then, Miss Robbins, allow me to escort you and join you for a pleasant morning ride." I joined him and as we left he looked over his shoulder to Joanna and said "Tell Caroline, if and when she deigns to grace us with her presence, I want to see her in my office at 9.30." This will be the third time in as many weeks she's been late. Htt!" I remembered his little speech habit, I wondered if it happened when he was nervous, under pressure or perhaps angry. I didn't think it meant anything good for Caroline and wondered if he might expel her.
My mare was fourteen hands, he told me, placid and old enough to be sensible; he said I could just climb aboard and leave it all to her if I wanted. It was the nearest Mr van Eyck had come to making a joke and I smiled politely. His own mount was quite a bit bigger, both were saddled ready to go and, after a few basics in a small paddock for me to demonstrate I wasn't a complete novice,
Mr van Eyck opened a gate and we rode into an open field where Mr van Eyck took the lead, walking, trotting and finally cantering when he could see I wasn't hanging on for dear life. He certainly had an air of authority sitting astride his horse.
"Take the lead Miss Robbins, please, at your own pace, I'll keep up I promise." It was another of his little jokes, I knew he could keep up, still I took the lead and on the other side of the stream and when path turned into a large meadow I gee'd my pony on to a canter, raising myself up from the waist, hips moving with the horse, then raising my bottom out of the saddle and arching my back slightly as I leaned my upper torso forward for a gallop, as I'd been taught. I was exhilarated, I wondered if Mr van Eyck was impressed, I wondered if he was watching my backside as it undulated with the motion of the horse, then he was aside me, riding easily and signalling me to slow down which I did immediately, "Excellent Miss Robbins but take it easy first time after so many years, we don't want you falling off on that pretty bottom of yours."
I'm sure I turned beetroot red, I hoped he'd assume it was the rush of air from the short gallop, he didn't comment, just said it was time we were getting back and he'd show me a different route, which he did with us riding abreast and chatting where space permitted and single file where it did not.
Back at the stables Joanna and another girl were waiting for us. We'd been out just over an hour, the time had flown. We dismounted, Joanna's companion took care of the horses and Mr van Eyck asked me if I'd care to join him for coffee in, say, half an hour id time and expenses. This visit ould look after me. I asked Joanna if we might watch some of the other girls going through their routines, I could see there were four or five girls practising and a couple more watching from the sides, but she said oh no, they would all be coming in within ten minutes, there was a brief meeting scheduled for 9.45am which all girls were required to attend. She told me I could come too and I'd just have time to change first.
I didn't bother showering, just got back into my jeans and trainers, gulped some water down, checked my phone for messages and handed Joanna's stuff back to her. It was nearly 9.45am, "Come on," she said, "we mustn't be late." I asked her where the meeting was and she told me in the training room, which was also used for hospitality on open days, it was equipped for lectures, videos, presentations etc with a small stage and could seat about twenty people although we wouldn't be seated today, it would only be a short meeting she said shyly. The room was past reception and Mr van Eyck's office, the door was open when we arrived and ten or twelve girls were congregated inside, their excited chatter stopped as Joanna and I entered the room, I assumed it was my presence, new kid on the block, but that wasn't the case at all. Their attention was focused behind us and I turned to see Mr van Eyck enter the room accompanied by a striking dark haired girl who looked nervous and avoided eye contact. She might have been southern European judging from her skin and features but I couldn't be certain, she certainly had the curves prevalent in girls from those climes and she deported herself well.
Could someone near the back please close the door," said Mr van Eyck as he mounted the low stage carrying a riding crop, "Thank you," it was Joanna who closed it and returned to my side.
"You all know why we're here," he said clearly and concisely, "Caroline has let us all down by being late for practise for a third time in little more than two weeks. In so doing she has inconvenienced others and disrupted our schedules. She has shown no genuine remorse and the reasons given for her inconsiderate behaviour are spurious to say the least. She is to be punished." Mr van Eyck was already moving towards a wall mounted cupboard at the back of the stage as his pronouncement was made. There was shuffling and fidgeting amongst the assembled girls but no one spoke. Mr van Eyck turned back from the cupboard and instead of the crop he was holding a long crook handled cane, I could hardly believe my eyes.
"A chair if you please, Caroline." He flexed the cane between his two hands as he waited for the unfortunate girl to follow his instruction. I lost sight of Caroline's head as she bent down to lift a light framed chair which she carried onto the stage and placed in front of Mr van Eyck with its back facing out to the room .
"I'm sorry, Sir," I heard her say meekly. The room was silent now, you could have heard a pin drop.
"Sorry for being in this position no doubt," said the riding school proprietor, "and you will shortly be a lot sorrrier. Stand against the back of the chair, then bend over palms flat on the seat, I'm going to punish you and then you will apologise to your colleagues for your inconsiderate behaviour."
There was no protest and not a sound in the room as Caroline stood at the chair back for a moment then bent forward and down so that chair top was wedged against her hips, her bottom, which I noticed was voluptuous and bulged slightly obscenely in her strained jodhpurs, thrust out towards us.
Mr van Eyck positioned himself to her left and told her it would be four strokes and not to move until he said she could. I heard one girl gasp. I thought about reaching into my jeans for my phone and trying to snatch a couple of shots surreptitiously but then I couldn't remember if the flash was on and if it was I'd be caught. Then I thought even if I managed some shots and my editor liked them, would I really want them published? It would mean I could never come back here. I didn't get the camera, I was completely distracted from the idea when I heard the whoosh of the cane and the terrible splat as it landed across the bending girl's plump cheeks followed by her ooohh arrghhhh! and the tiny shuffle of her feet. I was shocked, as if frozen to the spot when I felt Joanna's left hand reaching for my right, which she found and clasped lightly, firming her grip as she saw the cane raised for a second time and squeezing as it thrashed down followed by more cries from the girl. Whether to comfort me or herself I had no idea but the contact was warm and almost conspiratorial in an odd way. I think I squeezed back at the following two strokes which were delivered fast and had Caroline cry out loudly and stomp her feet making her bottom wobble and left her crying in great heaving sobs.
I was too stunned to say anything, there was a murmur in the 'audience' although I couldn't catch words. Then Mr van Eyck's voice, strong and clear, "Get up now Caroline and turn around, I believe you have something to say to your colleagues, Htt!"
The punished girl stood slowly, I'm sure her poor bottom must have felt terrible and I should think she would rather have fallen through the floor than faced her colleagues. When she did turn round she straightened to her full height and lifted her head proudly, brave girl, we could see her face tear streaked and her lip was quivering as she tried to speak and hold back the sobs at the same time. No words came out and Mr van Eyck spoke again, surprisingly softly, "Go on Caroline, you'll feel better for it," and after a while Caroline managed to get out "S-s-sorry...I'm so sorry to all of you" before the floodgates re-opened and she was sobbing again.
"Htt. Let it be a lesson, my girl," said Mr van Eyck as he replaced the cane in the cupboard and left the room. The girls immediately surrounded Caroline, sisterly empathy, commiseration, admiration, perhaps even excitement, I wasn't observing objectively, caught up in the general frisson it was impossible to think clearly. Then I remembered my coffee date. Oh my goodness, I said to Joanna perhaps I should just go straight home instead but she said no not at all, I should go along to reception and have my coffee, she assured me it would be business as usual for Mr van Eyck. She smiled warm encouragement and I went to reception a few minutes before ten o'clock, trembling slightly and quite ridiculously as I waited for my host to arrive.
At precisely top of the hour Mr van Eyck entered the room, the coffeee machine was already on and he went and poured two cups, remembering from our last meeting how I liked mine. We chatted casually, not one reference to the caning, just talking about the ride, my proficiency, how he thought I could improve, whether I liked the girls and the set up in general and then finally, close to ten-thirty, about whether I thought my trip would provide anything of interest for my editor. He was smiling, I was not, as I explained to him that I'd made the appointment outside of my duties as a reporter and that I would not be making any kind of report or in fact comments of any sort to my editor. I was about to apologise when he beamed, "Well that's splendid, Miss Robbins, you won't feel compromised by your professional instincts and you can answer me plainly when I tell you I'd be delighted to have you join us as an intermediate student if you'd be so inclined, I really think you have the ability to do well." I was taken by surprise his invitation but not by the idea of enrolling in the school which had already occurred to me on the ride.
"I think I'd like that, Mr van Eyck....Sir," I realised what I'd said and felt myself blush.
"Excellent, I'll have Joanna attend to the details." He shook my hand and went to leave.
"Mr van Eyck," I said, "one more thing, that girl just now, is she.. er.. expelled?"
"You mean Caroline? Good heavens no, not at all, fine young rider, we're all very proud of her, she'll represent our school one day, just needs a little discipline. Good day, Miss Robbins."
Have a fun weekend.