Views: 574 Created: 2017.03.24 Updated: 2017.03.24

Arabella and the rod by stephen rawlings


Boredom had driven her out. She had no patience with the silly girls, lost as they were to anything other than the assessment and acquisition of husbands, and the futilities of fashion. So, she'd excused herself on the pretext that she felt a touch of the megrims, for which she had always found fresh air a sovereign remedy, and had sent for her groom to prepare her horse. Now, the idle chatter of the house party left behind, the Lady Arabella Dymphna Gregory-Rawlings cantered through the sun dappled woodlands. Her long trailing riding habit concealed the slim thigh hooked over the horn of the side-saddle on which she was seated, and hung down to cover the trim booted foot in the left-hand stirrup. She rode with straight back, from good breeding and firm whaleboning, her jacket open in the warm summer air. The sights and sounds of burgeoning nature all around made her feel alive in every part of her being and she rode with a feeling of excitement as if she might meet with adventure at each new turn of the path.

Presently she emerged above a little river, a village just to her right and hard by the stream below her, a building that appeared to be the communal wash house where several women were arriving with their loads, and others were standing by, apparently in animated discussion. Arabella rode down the slope and, not wishing to get involved with the villagers, kept a little to one side so as to reach the river bank just behind the wash house where, screened by bushes, she let the horse drink from the clear stream.

As she sat there quietly, letting him have his fill, she became aware of women's voices on the other side of the bushes.

"I reckon as how it'll be a rare contest today, Peg. There's some fine strong women entering." This from a deep country voice.

"Raw you might say for some of them before it's over." This sounded like a younger woman. "There'll be some well-cooked bums around here this afternoon. Are you putting yours up, Nan?"

"No, I'll keep my shilling to myself, though I might wager it later on someone like that big Betty. How about you then? You going to put your arse up?"

"Got to, haven't I? My Ma says if I don't have a go, now I'm eighteen, she'll skin my backside for me herself, so I might just as well have a go in there as at Ma's. At least I'll have the satisfaction of having a go at one or two of the other girls on the way."

Arabella listened, spell bound. She had heard passing reference from the maids, many of whom were village girls, to these whipping contests in country parts, but she'd never actually come across one before. As she understood them, the women all put a small sum, though no doubt large enough to them in their near poverty, into a pool, it seemed to be a shilling a head, or rather bum in this case. A knock-out contest followed, until the eventual winner scooped the pool.

The women were still talking. "I always enjoys a good tussle between two strong women. It needs a country woman for this sport. I can't see one of those fine pieces up at the Hall taking stripes on her bare arse. They'd have a fit of the vapours."

"You don't know everything, young Peg. When I was in service a few years back, before I married Tom, I heard and saw things you wouldn't believe. Sir Roderick was a stickler for discipline and that went for everyone in the household, from the lowest kitchen maid to Lady Meredith herself."

"You're telling me Lady Meredith was beaten for her faults just like anyone else?" Peg's voice was unbelieving.

"Oh yes, indeed she was. And quite often too. We always guessed when, for the Master would ring for the Butler and her Ladyship's maid together. They never told, being loyal servants, but we knew all right." Nan laughed. "There's not much goes on in a big house like that, what the servants don't find out sooner rather than later. They always know who's slipped into someone's bed at night, which girls are missing a maidenhead, and who's missed her monthlies and is in a muck sweat lest her belly should begin to swell."

The listener on the horse made a mental note to be a little more discreet. When you've been born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and been surrounded by servants all your life, it is only too easy to forget that they have eyes and ears, and tongues too.

"Oh Nan, go on. What happened? Did you ever see it? Do tell." No disbelief now, Peg's voice was full of eagerness.

"Yes, I did see it once, and it was this way. The Master and Mistress were to go to visit nearby. Her Ladyship's personal maid had been given leave to visit her Father, who was sick, and was to be away overnight, and I was appointed in her place. I'd often helped with her dressing and hair and suchlike, and I think she liked me. Indeed, if I'd not married Tom I think I might have got on and, perhaps, even got to travel with her Ladyship and seen the world, Paris even. Paris, that's what I'd always wanted, but I got married instead."

"But what happened? Oh Nan, stop being such a tease and tell me what happened." Peg could hardly contain herself.

"Well, as I said, they'd been to dine at friends, and when they got back, it was obvious the Master was not best pleased and her Ladyship looked very contrite. We learned from the coachman, after, that he'd accused her of flirting with a young man at dinner, and she couldn't deny it. Anyway, they'd been home about ten minutes when the bells go for the Butler and the Lady's maid, that's me of course that night. All the servants in the hall begin to snigger and make remarks about raw rumpsteaks and suchlike, but the Butler quells them with his best frosty look. 'Come on, Nancy,' he says, 'We've got business to attend to.'" She sniffed. "Some of those servants had no proper respect for their betters. Didn't deserve no place in a good house."

"And what happened when you got upstairs?"

"We goes up to the Blue Drawing-room and there was the Master, standing in front of the fire lifting his coat-tails to warm his backside, and her Ladyship standing a little way off, trying to ignore the fact that her backside was about to get warmed too. 'Ah, Stevens,' says she, 'I am to be chastised. Sir Roderick feels that my offence calls for a salutary fustigation, so go and fetch a long crop from the stables. And Nancy, please help me out of my clothes in readiness for correction.'"

Peg could not contain herself. "You mean she had to take it on the bare?" she interrupted, breathless with excitement.

"Yes, bare as a babe, or at any rate the part that mattered. I helped her off with her gown and petticoats until she stood in just her corset and chemise."

"What! Nothing else? No drawers?"

"Why, she still wore her silk stockings and little pumps with heels, but she never held with drawers, and most Ladies still don't. Nasty modern French things they are and no good is likely to come to girls what wear them. I hope you've got no uppity ideas about wearing drawers, my girl," admonished the older woman.

"Oh no, I knows me place," answered the girl, placatingly. "but I thought all the fine ladies were wearing them now."

"Not all even now, some holds to decent ways still. Anyway, as I was saying, there's her Ladyship, standing in her stays and chemise. She was, still is for that, a very fine figure of a woman, not yet thirty at that time, tall, slim but with good meat in all the right places, as you could see, as she had on the very finest of silk chemises, it being worn under evening dress, and cut very low, relying on the lace at the top of her décolletage to keep her nipples covered, so now they peeped above the corset top and gave her away.

"She had been standing all unconcerned, as if just undressing to go to bed, rather than to be whipped, for it's not done for ladies to show their feelings, but her fine pink teats had hardened with her fear of what was coming. even though her beautiful face showed nothing but indifference as we all stood and waited."

Arabella was agog to hear more, and so it seemed was young Peg, who could not restrain her curiosity.

"So, what happened next?" she burst out.

The excitement of her tale was beginning to affect the teller too. "After a few minutes the Butler returned bringing a very vicious whalebone whip, about three feet long, with a plaited leather grip. At the sight of it Milady's expression didn't change, but I could see that she turned a little pale.

"Sir Roderick waved one hand at Mr. Stevens. 'Madam is to have two dozen,' says he, 'Well laid on. None of the tickles you give the maids. This is a strong, well-bred woman and she needs a full-blooded whipping. I want her to feel proper contrition, preferably in her arse and for at least a week, whenever she sits.'

'Very good, Sir Roderick,' says the butler, 'Would you be good enough to take up your position, Milady, if you please?'"

Peg could not contain her astonishment. "You mean to say the Butler was to do it?"

"Oh yes. Sir Roderick never did anything for himself, other than at sport or in bed. He often said it was the duty of rich men to let their servants do everything, to give them employment."

"But what did her Ladyship think?" persisted Peg. "Surely she objected to the Butler using the whip on her?"

"Oh no. She was a General's daughter, and had been brought up to accept duty and discipline, and unquestioning obedience to one's superior officer, which meant, in her case, her husband. She would never have questioned his authority, and especially," Nan added with emphasis," not in front of the servants."

"She must have been a bit of a mouse." sniffed Peg.

"Not on your life." Nan defended her Lady indignantly." She was the most spirited and lively person you ever met, but she believed in discipline and order, and the Quality setting an example for lesser folks."

"All right. Don't take offence," said Peg, quickly, "I know how much you respected her. One thing about having the butler do it, he'd hold back a bit, her being a Lady an' all, so she'd be better off than if Sir Roderick did it himself."

"Don't you believe it, my girl," came the reply, "Mr. Stevens was a very strong man, with a wrist on him like a steel spring, and he kept it in trim on our backsides. He carried out all the punishments in the servant's hall personally, and I can tell you I blubbed like a baby every time he did me." Peg looked suitably respectful for, before she gave it up, the older woman had done very well in the periodical village whipping contests, and had a reputation as a 'good stayer'.

"And what's more," Nan continued, "he was Sir Roderick's man, not her Ladyship's, and would consider it his duty to carry out his Master's instructions to the letter. Besides, I do believe he enjoyed it the more that it was an upperclass arse he was carving."

"So what happened then?"

"Her Ladyship walked across the room, as calm as you please, as if she was going to greet a guest, rather than get a whipping, while Mr. Stevens stood testing the whip by flexing it in his hands and cutting it through the air. It made a wicked sound but Milady didn't blink an eyelid. She went up to a chaise longue with a high roll end, and bent herself over it. You can tell how lissome and bendy she was, because, even in the stiff corset she wore, she was able to put her forehead on her crossed arms on the seat. Mind you, it pulled her right up until her weight was on her toes. 'Lift that rag, girl' says the Master to me, 'I want to see how the meat cooks.' So, I ups and turns the tail of the chemise over her back."

"You mean it was really on the bare, like we gets it?" asked Peg. "Like a skinned rabbit, although there was nothing rabbity about Milady. A lovely rump, full, rounded, a nice deep crack between her behinds and a little overhang just at the top of the thighs, flattened out now because of the way she was bending, but you could still make out the crease. 'Now Madam' says the Master, 'You may reflect on whether your moment of play with young Stenbrough was worth the price, and, perhaps, next time you're tempted you'll count the cost first. Carry on, Stevens, and make it tight.' At that Mr. Stevens lifts the whalebone and brings it flashing down to land two inches above that delicate crease, just where the flesh is tenderest, as I've no doubt your mother has taught you the feel of it."

"Oo, hasn't she just." Peg had a shiver in her tone. "She gets me just there every time if she can, and it makes you want to curl up and die." "Well, her Ladyship didn't move or make a sound and we all stood and watched while a deep red welt started to grow on her white flesh. Before it had reached its darkest hue, when the pain must have been reaching its height, the second stroke cut in, just below the first. Again, Milady didn't move, though I heard her suck in her breath. The new welt darkened, while the first was now a purple rope, and then the third stroke fell, burrowing into the very crease itself. Milady gasped and seemed to groan a little, as the after pain rolled in."

"She must have been very brave. I reckon I'd be screaming my guts out with a whip like that in my crease." There was admiration in Peg's voice, a sentiment shared by the silent listener. "How long did she keep that up?"

Nancy considered. "I guess she did no more than grunt and moan while seven or eight full blooded cuts sank into her underbuttock. Mr. Stevens had a marksman's eye, I think it's because he has had so much practice. Sir Roderick sometimes took him up to their London house, and there, I've heard, he chastised his Mistress as well as his wife. At any rate, the eight welts were so close they ran all together so you couldn't make out the lines. It was just one thick purple bruise, two inches wide, and he kept right on hitting into the same place. Now she couldn't keep back her cries, though she wouldn't give in altogether and bit each off as it came from her throat. As the toll mounted, she felt the after agony more and more keenly, and a mewling noise, like a hurt kitten, came from her twisting mouth."

"And did she not move at all? How could she stay still under such torment?" asked the girl.

"Indeed," said Nancy." she did no more than flinch slightly as the stroke hit, and fret her thighs together after as the pain mounted, and held out so until the fourteenth blow. It caught her very low, on the bottom edge of the slowly spreading wound, more on the thigh than the buttock. The cry forced from her throat was not much greater than she had conceded before but, as the pain flooded in, she groaned and slowly straightened, her hands going back to clasp her wounded arse, her spine arched back in a bow of agony. I could see her poor lips bitten till they bled where she'd tried to control her cries."

Arabella shuddered at the thought of what sort of pain could force a proud woman to capitulate like that, and wondered if she was penalised for her weakness. A similar thought seemed to have struck young Peggy. "Did Sir Roderick make her get back down? Ma's awful strict with me, and I gets extra if I get up."

"And so did her Ladyship." Nancy replied." Back down she had to go and I was told to stand at her head, and make sure she didn't get up again before time. I had to kneel on the seat of the chaise, with her forehead resting on my thighs, and press on her shoulders with my hands. The Master awarded her two extra strokes for getting up without permission. I think the shame of her weakness, as it seemed to her, quite undermined her strength, for from then on she cried out at every stroke and sobbed between, but she did not try to rise again and she refused to beg for mercy."

"And did she have to go to the very end, then? Did Sir Roderick not take pity on her?" questioned Peg, although Arabella could have told her it was not in the man's nature to show mercy.

"Yes, to the bitter end. Twenty-six brutal cuts with that fiendish whip, and no mercy shown. I doubt though that she would have welcomed any letting off. I reckon she would think it demeaning not to have been made to see it through. When it was over, she was made to kneel and kiss the rod, thanking Sir Roderick, through her sobs, for having her corrected as she deserved. He left the room, taking Stevens with him, while I remained to take care of her Ladyship. She was still a little distressed, but rapidly gaining control of herself, though tears and worse stained her cheeks, while the blood ran down her thighs,

especially on the right, where the tip of the whip had cut the skin clean open. Across the lower part of her buttock there ran a dark swollen oozing mass, now nearer four inches wide and raised fully the thickness of a finger. I gathered up her clothes and lent her a shoulder to support her, as she limped painfully up to her room, where I washed her wound and put her in her night rail."

"Was she always punished so strictly, do you think?" "I think not. The next day she put a brave face on it and went about her day as if nothing had happened, but she limped noticeably, and I hadn't seen that before, and it was a week before she could sit a horse again. I don't know how she fared after, for three months later Tom fetched me away here. Still you must admit that some fine Ladies can take a whipping."

"Well one perhaps, but you're always on as how your Lady was one in a million. I don't believe any of the fine Ladies round these parts would last one round in there." scoffed Peg, jerking her head towards the wash house, where the last stragglers were going in.

"That's as maybe." Nan observed darkly, "Thinking of whippings, hadn't you best go collect one for your own bum? All the other women seem to have gone in while we've been gossiping, and I wouldn't want you to miss a treat."

Peg gave a little snort of distaste, but rose to her feet and the two village women moved round the far side of the wash house to join their sisters inside.

Arabella slipped off her horse and stood looking very thoughtfully at the sky, as if she might find inspiration there.