It really isn‘t a good day for the Principal. Two colleagues are ill and the substitute, Mr. Nožička, is in Prešpurk attending a study course… Simply dividing substitutes into classes to avoid major disruption of the teaching plan took him all morning. Doctor Schertel has been awaiting him for at least half an hour now, and his rheumatic knee is reminding him that he should have gone to see the doctor at least a week ago.
The knock on the door came at the least appropriate time, when he was heading towards the door with his cane in his hand and cap on his head. Of course: an unfortunate female student, ticket in hand, eyes downcast, she can barely be understood… And she keep repeating: “But Mr. Principal… but Mr. Principal… but Mr. Principal, you are mistaken!“
“I am not usually mistaken, young lady!“ growls the Principal. As if the aching knee was not enough; now an arrogant student! “And I am not used to students using that kind of tone with me!“ He really has to sort things out with her when he comes back, but an hour on her knees would do her mind good too: “Kneel down here and think about the manner, and particularly the tone that students from my institution may use to address members of the teachers’ collective!“ He slams the door behind him, perhaps harder than he wanted to.
Eulálie Cimciburková, a premier student of six B, was always an A-student, primarily due to her exceeding hard work, obedience and lack of any outside interests. Speaking skills and rationalisation really were not among her strong points. Now she was facing a problem that demanded a solution: she does not know why, but she is supposed to kneel on the board until the Principal comes back. Nor did he say when he was coming back. Hmm. She would obey as usual, but it was likely to hurt. Unless… she was proud of herself for coming up with the idea of folding the edge of her skirt under her knees as a cushion. It was tolerable for a while, and did not hurt more than the bench at church, but at church nobody wanted her to kneel for Heaven knows how long… and what if she leant her hands against the floor? There, that’s a bit better… and what if she raised her knees a little? If she regularly alternates these positions, then with the help of God she will manage to kneel…
The unpleasant feeling of cold on his bare scalp disgruntled the Principal. Of course – the cap! Heading into the streets bareheaded like some labourer, particularly in the case when his hair was hardly worth mentioning, was truly a disgrace to his age and position. Doctor Schertel would simply have to wait a while.
In a blue bundle huddled in the middle of the room, he recognises the student only after some thought. He would really like to know what these children learn at home, when they must even be taught to kneel at school: “Straighten your skirt, young lady, so it doesn’t get crumpled, and smooth out your stockings so you don’t ruin them, straighten up…“ Good, now she is kneeling like she should, but who will guarantee that she won’t start wriggling again in a while?
“The book, young lady, is the foundation of human direction,“ says the Principal, placing one but after another into the student’s outstretched arms. “If you move, the books will fall on the ground. I would have to consider that a serious dishonour to the guidance contained therein and punish it as necessary. Thus it would be far more useful for you to await me calmly and think about what, and in what tone, you want to tell me.“
Eulálie Cimciburková prided herself for never before having to confess disrespect or disobedience to her parents, or to any other superior persons. Now, however, her desire to be an obedient little girl was in conflict with her minimal physical capabilities. Physical education was not among her favourite subjects, her somersaults were always awry and despite all her efforts she could not manage a cartwheel. And now she was supposed to last with her hands outspread, burdened by a pile of books until the Principal returns. She would try, surely. She clenches her teeth when her arms start shaking. She would try to obey and resist, but the books were really heavy, it seems impossible, she can’t handle it… And they fall to the floor.
Not only are her knees bruised and sore, but who would place the books back in her arms? If she tries to lift them herself, they will fall immediately. Unless… For the second time, she is surprised at the good ideas she keeps coming up with. She decides to place the books on the edge of the table, across the corner, she will be able to lift them and move with them very carefully until she manages to kneel down on the board again without dropping them… Ooh, the skirt. Everything worked out, but she kneeled on her skirt. The Principal was unlike to overlook that. How to get it from under her knees when she can’t use her hands… And there go the books again.
Alright, something else. Books on the corner of the table, hem of the skirt between her teeth so that it doesn’t get caught under her knees when kneeling down, lift the books, turn around…
She was so scared by the Principal’s shout that the books fell from her hands, and she let go of the skirt later than etiquette would recommend. However, the Principal was not in the least interested in her lace slip and hand-embroidered stockings. He refused to hear any explanation, because from his point of view, the matter was utterly clear: he left the student kneeling in his office and when he returned, he caught her rummaging through the things on his table! What arrogance!
“But Mr. Principal…“ Eulálie again did not get an opportunity to finish her sentence. Led embarrassingly by the ear and flooded by a torrent of uncompromising orders, she chose the proven tactic of obedience, although with serious internal doubts as to whether she was acting in her favour. In the presence of the Principal, she lays down on an extraordinarily uncomfortable object, raises her skirt and turns down her stockings, decorated with hand-made embroidery according to a pattern from a popular ladies’ and girls’ magazine. Her doubts increased while listening to the Principals aggravated comments:
“We know how to successfully cure arrogance, young lady, arrogance, insolence and indecency in these times! Throughout my teaching career, I have experienced many various educational approaches, but no cure is as effective as direct application of the wicker! One day you will thank me! And if you do not, then your husband surely will!“
“All for nothing,“ sighed Eulálie in her mind, when the first blow of the reed whip landed on her rear. She also wondered why her future husband should thank the Principal, when her father bends her over his knee with the justice due to a better cause, but the Principal’s voice liberates her from this complicated problem:
“How many were there, young lady?!?“
Eulálie was scared. The Principal had caught her not paying attention.
“You mistake! Start counting from one again!“
This time she tried hard to count the blows and particularly to clearly articulate the numbers. She remembered many comments from reading and singing class, that she mumbles and can’t be understood. She honestly tried not to disappoint the Principal, although it seemed very difficult in this situation, when blows far more painful than those from her father’s belt kept landing on her rear. She was pleased how well she was handling the complicated situation, and at the same time was a bit sorry that she couldn’t cry a little. Crying generally helped her in such situations, but she did not dare start when the Principal did not mentions a word about crying.
The Principal, on the other hand, kept becoming more and more nervous. Under normal circumstances, almost every student with the exception of the rebel Šmeralová would be sobbing by the tenth blow, but the situation he found himself in reminded him all too much of tenderising veal steaks on Sundays. The glanced discreetly at the base rear – yes, everything seems to be alright on this side. Fifteen parallel welts clearly showed that he was not shunning his work. There was apparently problem somewhere en route to the head. Alright, he would give this information time to reach its destination.
“Well young lady, take this as a very temporary introduction! Name, class?“
As if the first hurt sniff appeared in the student’s voice: “Eulálie Cimciburková, six B.“
The Principal took the records with the relevant name from the shelf.
„Eulálie Cimciburková… interesting, you were here last in fourth grade… what brings you here now after two years…“
The opened envelope revealed a note, covered with careful handwriting:
“Dear Mr. Principal,
With regards to the altered geopolitical situation, please allow me to respectfully request a new globe as an aide to successful teaching of geography.
Regular geography teacher”“
Although it cost the Principal considerable efforts, he managed to control himself for the moment. A new globe… Good Heavens! … and why didn’t the little fool say so? A pity of every blow that goes astray, of course. Moreover, this student clearly disobeyed his instructions concerning behaviour in the office, but still… An ironed handkerchief and forced cough at the last moment hid uncontrollable laughter. During documentation of the punishment, he was able to fully resume the role of a just ruler of a girls’ institution: “And above all, young lady, remember that you are obliged to speak respectfully, clearly and comprehensibly to the teachers, and myself, in order to avoid unintentional misunderstandings! You are obliged to obey orders with due care, without objections and precisely! And remember, young lady, that the Bible states that those who spare their cane harm their son, which naturally applies to daughters as well, and in general to students! A pity of every blow that goes astray! You may go!“
Eulálie thought that it would be a good moment to explain why she came to the office, so that the Principal would not thing wrongly of her, but she correctly interpreted the Principal’s threatening growl as a call for her to depart, postponed only by the obligation to arrange the books that had fallen on the floor.
The student Cimciburková left the office just in time, at least from the Principal’s point of view. The door had not even closed behind her when the corners of his mouth started twitching over the story, that would undoubtedly entertain his card partners at the pub. He was alone in the room and could finally start laughing, until tears ran from his eyes…
The knock on the door caught him in the midst of even greater laughter, but he was capable of controlling himself. At least he thought so, but he did not manage to hide his surprise at the return of Eulálie Cimciburková, particularly when seeing her tear-stained face.
“Mr. Principal, Profession Aujezdský sent me here, because as I was here I could not be at geography class, and they had a written examination and the teacher thinks I skipped on purpose so that I wouldn’t have to write it…“
At that moment, any thought of laughter utterly disappeared from the director’s mind. So they had a written examination? And Cimciburková avoided it through defiant silence? That is why she didn’t tell him her reason for coming! That was why she just mumbled! She thought that if she stayed at the office, she would avoid the examination! What a pretty lie! It was a falsehood! And she even has the insolence to claim that it wasn’t true!
“How dare you, young lady! What do you mean – not true?! Do you mean to say that Professor Aujezdský is lying?! Or am I lying?!!“
The ashtray jumped when the Principal angrily slammed his fist on the table.
“We know how to handle your sort at this institution! Bend over!!!“
Eulálie was not sure, but she had the strong feeling that the situation was not working out to her advantage. However, her words did not improve anything: the Principal was unwilling to believe her that he couldn’t do something of the sort.
“You would be surprised what all I can do! And I assure you that whatever I do for your correction will be done with the greatest diligence I can summon!“
Bent again over that bizarre object, Eulálie though that there must be an interminable number of welts from the whip across her rear. She was therefore pleased when she understood from the Principal’s words that she was mistaken.
“I will not ruin my whip on a cheater of your type! A rough sack deserves a rough patch! The whip, young lady, is an master’s paintbrush, with which the artist finishes the last touches on his work! But you remind me more of a roughly whitewashed wall, on which it is necessary to apply the base colours! But don’t worry, we have plenty of experience with that at this institution and during exchange we work with foreign institutions! Yes, young lady, foreign!“
The director was pleased in a particular way that he had acquired such an opportunity to try the new instrument, which had been delivered only yesterday by the postman. He had not even managed to study the manual in detail, but he deeply trusted his pedagogical experience. At the same time, he could not resist boasting at least a little: “My colleagues from Scotland sent me this! They have achieved excellent results!“
Suddenly, he faltered. He remembered that there was something in the manual about preparation before initial use… Of course, proper greasing. The oil was enclosed in the package and he had already prepared it with his characteristic diligence.
He doused the leather instrument in oil twice, to make sure he didn’t neglect anything. If its proves useful, he would introduce it as standard equipment at the school. In his mind, he was already preparing a thesis for the presentation at the next school meeting. His tense excitement could not be dulled even by the student’s incapability of adding twenty-five for the falsehood and twenty-five for insolence, although her answer of “a lot“ was correct, from the aspect of formal logic with regards to her position.
The manual to the instrument indicated described, explained and depicted the correct position of the executor in detail, but it took the Principal several minutes before he was satisfied with the measured distance. It did not disturb him, on the contrary. The explicitness of the manual suited his taste for pedantry.
Eulálie was trying to do two things at once, which fully occupied her intellectual capacity. Firstly, she was carefully counting the individual blows, and secondly she was closely studying the feelings on her behind. Finally, she decided that they were more like her father’s belt than the Principal’s whip.
The director was displeased. Acoustically, the instrument in his hand was excellent and highly exceeded the whip, and it made a very serious impression visually, as far as he could tell. But somehow it had little apparent effect on the strange student. She counted with an uninterested, almost calm voice… He must be doing something wrong. He suppressed the desire to look into the manual. He must handle it with his experience!
Eulálie was sincerely sorry that she did not realise in time whether she could cry. It seemed to her now that her father’s belt was not this painful. She tried at least to concentrate on careful counting. It helped a little.
The Principal was sweating. He was sure that if he had the whip in his hands… But his colleagues from Scotland claimed that they have excellent experience with it! And he had another twenty-five blows to go yet.
The heat in the jacket was intolerable and he urgently needed to check the effects of the instrument. They were visually interesting, that was true, the mistake must be in the girl after all… He decided to perform the test of the new instrument until the end, even at the price of imperfect educational effect.
Eulálie was pleased by the Principal’s praise, although she was not sure what it meant when somebody was called truly unique. She would have to look it up in the dictionary. In the meantime, she tried her best not to disappoint the Principal, although it was far from easy during the second series of twenty-five that she received. She resisted crying out loud, although it took immense effort, but tears were running. She hoped the Principal wouldn’t notice.
In the meantime, the irresistible thought that something must be wrong crept into the Principal’s mind, and it certainly could not be the instrument in his hand. It seemed that the student before him was composed of two independent parts: one was being educated very duly, judging according to the welts, while the other was calmly counting the twenty-fifth blow.
During preparation of the camera, he unbelievingly assures himself that the lesson was clear on the behind at least, but doubts were gnawing him. He almost systematically made a record, directed the student to the board, although he had to honestly admit that in her case there was little change in the emotional expressions one encountered with other students, and when he was certain that she was sufficiently occupied with herself, he discreetly opened the drawer and took out the instrument. Suddenly with the greatest effort he suppressed a curse over the feeling that the tawse manages to extract during a light slap over the hand.
Urged on by strictly scientific interest, he went to inspect the traces of the instrument on the student’s behind once more. Visually, they really corresponded to the description written by his colleagues, but as far as function was concerned, it really wasn’t a convincing experience… and they praised it so… Well: an Austrian cane is an Austrian cane!
Pedagogical disappointment made the Principal so nervous that he actually let the student go prematurely. If she had eavesdropped behind the door, she probably wouldn’t have understood the incongruent exclamations “Scotland! Excellent results! Lakes! Men in skirts!“, but the click of the stove door would leave her with no doubts about the fate of the instrument, which would make sitting with her friends most unpleasant for at least two weeks.
“Golden Austria, Golden Austria…“ from the Principal’s lips sounded like a definite epithet over the possibility of enriching Austrian pedagogic science with foreign experience.
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