As the days passed, and she had time to reflect on her folly, Arabella resolved that never again would she let herself be so manipulated. She had lost none of her taste for adventure, but it was going to be on her own terms. She did not intend to avoid hazards, for without risk there was no adventure, but she would not allow another to manoeuvre her into folly as Chloe, by playing on her anger and reluctance to be branded coward, had done.
Her new-found resolution was soon tested. A week had passed since her vagina had been spared, and Chloe's seared. She had no direct word of how she did for, though she had sent a note of enquiry, there had been no reply, but her messenger had spoken to the maid and learned that her Mistress was confined to bed in some pain and the Doctor continued to call. Now Arabella's maid announced a visitor.
"Lady Beatrice Darnley is asking if you will receive her, Milady." "Show her in at once please, Helen." Beatrice Darnley, Chloe's half-sister. What brought her here? Perhaps she brought news of Chloe in response to her note, but it was not like Beatrice to come on such an errand. The two women had always been very close, and Beatrice had always been fiercely defensive of her younger sibling. She was another given to strange moods, and had a reputation for wild doings. Arabella thought she might share her own adventurous yearnings, but Beatrice was rumoured to have sought her excitements on the wrong side of honour. A rather mannish figure with her straight cut costume and short blonde hair, Beatrice entered with an athletic stride. Arabella rose to greet her.
"Hello, Beatrice. It is a long while since we last met. I hope you are well."
Beatrice pointedly avoided Arabella's proffered embrace.
"I have not come to exchange pleasantries, but to tell you to your face that you're a dishonourable bitch. Thanks to you, my poor sister lies in her bed nursing a cunt that pains her continuously, and may never function properly again. I intend that you shall give satisfaction for bringing her to this pass by your trickery, or be branded a coward before all our acquaintance."
Arabella's head reeled. What was it with these Darnley women? Were they all mad, bad and dangerous to know, as they were saying of young Byron? And now the same old blackmail of an accusation of cowardice. Would she never be done with it? She tried to reason.
"I'm truly sorry that poor Chloe is in pain, and I hope sincerely that she makes a complete recovery, but you must know that it was all her doing."
"I know nothing of the kind. She tells me, and I believe her, that you switched the capsules while her back was turned. Do you deny that?" Arabella gave an exasperated sigh.
"No, I don't deny that I switched the capsules, but did she tell you that she had secreted a safe one where she could get it for herself, and condemned me to the fate that has now overtaken her? As it was, I exposed myself to the risk we had agreed, and put that beastly egg into myself not knowing if it was water or acid."
"Ah, so you admit it. You are responsible for Chloe's plight. Well you shall live to regret it, and I intend to see you give satisfaction." It was no use. She was never going to get this unreasoning champion of her half-sister to accept the facts, or see sense. She sighed again. "Have it your own way, Beatrice. How do you suggest we give each other satisfaction? Surely you do not propose swords or pistols?" " You'd like it if I did, wouldn't you? All the world knows about your tomboy games with that brother of yours. But you'll not get the
advantage of me that way, like you did Chloe. You'll meet me with something we are both familiar with. Carriage whips and bare breasts in the park. Here are the names of my seconds." And she laid a card on the table. "If you can get any women of breeding to act for you, get them to meet and make all the necessary arrangements. Now, if you would be so good as to send for your maid, I would like to leave this house. The air stifles me."
So much for her new resolution, no sooner formed than overturned by Beatrice's obdurate insistence that her half-sister had been wronged, rather than being the guilty party herself. Lavinia and Zelda, hastily summoned, agreed to act as seconds and a few days later laid out the arrangements made with those supporting Beatrice's interest.
"It seems," reported Zelda, "that Beatrice has heard from a traveller, returned from the Caucasus, that the women there habitually settle their disputes, be they over money men or honour, by fighting with whips, and is determined to copy their manner. The duellists fight bare-breasted, one hand tied behind their back, and a whip in the other, until one gives in and admits fault. We have negotiated on your behalf that there should be rounds of three minutes' duration, as with the new rules for prize fights, and that there must be no blows to the face. In the event of such a blow, the one giving it must stand and take two cuts to her breasts without protection, or be adjudged to have lost, the judgement of the seconds to decide on such fouls and any other matters at present unprovided for, should they arise. Do you accept the terms?" "Yes. Has a time and place been set?"
Lavinia's turn to answer this.
"We have agreed to follow the precedent of the men, since they seem to have maintained discretion without scandal by using a woodland venue near town at an early hour. The match is set for two days' time. We are to meet at the fallen oak in Grindley Woods at seven o'clock." Arabella shuddered.
"Bare-breasted in the open, at dawn on an October morning. Well, I dare say we'll both be considerably warm very shortly."
In the event it was a very mild morning for the time of year, though dew shone coldly on the grass floor of the glade as the first rays of the sun reached it. Arabella descended from her carriage with her seconds and hugged the cloak about her. Under it she was bare to the waist in preparation. Where the track left the glade on the opposite side, she could see Beatrice arriving, with her own supporters. Each directed their coachmen to drive off to the lane end, some quarter of a mile away, and wait until summoned by a whistle blast.
While the two contestants stood a little apart, the seconds conferred briefly, then Zelda came back with one of Beatrice's supporters, and Lavinia accompanied the other back to her principal.
" Remove your cloak, Madam, if you please." The second requested. Though the morning could have been colder, Arabella shuddered at the cool air on her skin, and her nipples puckered into points. The second produced a broad leather belt which she fastened tightly round
Arabella's waist, and a leather cuff for her left wrist. She was asked to put her left arm behind her back, and the cuff was clipped to a ring sewn into the back of the belt, securing the arm, exposing her breasts completely, and thrusting them into further prominence.
The combatants were now led to the centre of the glade where Arabella, as the challenged party, was offered the choice of a matched pair of whips. Each consisted of a stiff leather covered stock, rather under three feet long, with a flexible plaited leather extension of about the same length, severe trainers for a horse and cruel indeed for soft woman flesh, and tender breasts at that.
The two women faced each other, awaiting the signal to engage, each completely naked to the waist, below which their petticoats belled out. Each was endowed with full firm breasts, set high on their chests, Arabella's nipples a shade the larger, Beatrice's aureoles wider and darker than her rival's. Cold or apprehension had hardened all, and the targets for the coming contest, that they were constrained to offer without reserve, by virtue of the positioning of their arms behind their backs, were rigid puckered points.
A last minute consultation among the seconds and one went to Beatrice to tie back her mannish blonde hair in a simple bunch. Arabella's luxuriant locks were quickly twisted into a thick rope and doubled back on itself into a heavy 'club'.
"So that it can be seen if any stroke should fall foul and mark your face." Lavinia explained.
Now all was ready. The two half naked women were positioned about two paces apart, each instinctively putting her right side forward, and holding back her defenceless left breast from the waiting whip, though this was unlikely to spare it once battle was joined, for it would not be easy to ward off a horizontal sweep by any use of the whip in the right hand. Arabella reasoned that she might have to accept punishment from that quarter as best she could, and concentrate on causing the maximum damage on her own account.
"Prepare!" Called Zelda, "Commence!"
God, she was quick. As the command rang out Beatrice's whip flashed and a lance of fire struck across both her breasts almost before Arabella had launched her own fierce stroke. Though shocked by the speed and hurt of Beatrice's strike, she was in control of herself enough to register the heavy red welt that she had scored across the full white undersides of her opponent's globes. Inevitably each had flinched from the searing cut into their soft white flesh, and they commenced to circle to their right, exchanging blows and strangled grunts of anguish at each fresh wound. The plaited leather cut cruelly, and within a few exchanges, each carried a grille of red bars across their bosoms, each bar curling round onto the exposed left of the ribcage, where the delicate skin soon split under the onslaught, and small red droplets appeared to trickle down to the waist.
Arabella gritted her teeth and held on, absorbing the agonizing cuts as best she could, and making sure that her own ripostes cut equally cruelly into Beatrice's breasts and side.
"Time!" called a second, and they disengaged. Each fell on one knee while their seconds wiped the sweat from their faces, and applied cold wet clothes to their wounded sides to slow the bleeding. All too soon the minute's respite was up and they faced each other again.
As the excruciating exchange continued, Arabella found herself trying to avoid the dreadful slices to her nipples, breasts and ribcage by striking down at Beatrice's whip with her own, to deflect the blow, but with only partial success,. It needed a lightning response to catch the stroke in time, and in any case, she had to leave herself vulnerable if she was to get in any strokes of her own. By the time the second round had finished they were both showing signs of wear. Not only were both pairs of bubs criss-crossed with angry lines, and their ribcages on the left bleeding freely but each, by some lucky chance, had split an opposing nipple. The strain of pain and physical effort showed in the more ragged and wide spread pattern of cuts, some falling well below the ribs, almost on the waists of their petticoats, others on their arms and shoulders.
Their minute's rest did little to steady them and on their resumption their blows still showed a little wildness, though still punishing. Each effort was accompanied by a grunt from the striker and now a strangled cry from the stricken, as the whip cut again into her soft parts. Suddenly, just as Arabella unleashed a grunt assisted blow, Beatrice lost her footing on the still damp grass. As she stumbled her body dropped and the plaited leather, aimed at her chest, skidded off the top of her bare shoulder and wrapped itself round her neck.
"Foul!" claimed one of Beatrice's seconds, and all four gathered round her to inspect the cut. After a short discussion, Lavinia came over. "It is a foul, I'm afraid. The tip wrapped round and just caught the edge of her jaw. I'm sorry, Arabella, but you are going to have to stand to two free strokes on your breasts."
Arabella came forward in a daze.
"Hold your right arm straight up above your head," Beatrice ordered, "and keep it there."
Her opponent positioned herself to Arabella's right, and very slightly behind her. With a sick feeling, she took in the implication. Struck from this angle, the whip would fall full across both breasts and the tip would savage the left bub, probably to the blood. Moreover, the lash would also catch her under the right arm, impairing its use for her own attacks. Miserably she stood while Beatrice kept her waiting for her penance. The blow when it fell was everything she had feared. She screamed aloud and dropped her right arm to close her wounded armpit and clasp her savaged dugs as she fell to her knees, sobbing.
"On your feet, and arm right back up, if you please." Beatrice hissed.
In a red mist of pain she struggled to her feet and raised her arm, exposing her lacerated breasts and aching side to the whip. Able to take her time, without fear of reprisal, and with Arabella totally exposed at the angle of her choice, Beatrice's stroke had twice the venom of those delivered in the heat of combat. The lash bit deep into the soft pulp of the breasts, right across the nipples, split now and bleeding freely, and bit once again into the stretched muscles under her whip arm. Arabella shrieked anew and collapsed to the ground.
Her seconds won her a bare few moments to recover from the second, and even more punishing blow, and then there was the rest of the round to face. She fought back as best she could, but she had been badly hurt and in her distress, stumbled and fell on her face. As she tried to rise, Beatrice stood over her and rained blow after blow on her naked back. It was difficult enough to regain her feet with one hand tied, and hampered by her petticoats. The brutal onslaught, in her weakened condition, kept her pinned to the ground.
She was saved by the call of 'Time'. Exhausted and sore, she struggled to one knee.
"Shouldn't she have been stopped, when I fell?" she gasped. "There was nothing agreed about that, I'm afraid," said Zelda, "so I suppose she was in her rights."
"Then I'll show her no mercy should she fall." declared Arabella. To herself she conceded that she was unlikely to be in the position to show anyone mercy, if things went on as they were. She was exhausted by her efforts, and the pain of her hurts. Her breasts were raw mounds of bruised flesh, her ribcage ached and bled, her back was sore, and as she had feared, the calculated cuts under her whip arm were stiffening and would do nothing to help her case. She didn't feel that she was likely to outlast the fanatical hatred of Beatrice, who had not suffered quite as badly. This was the point when fencing, where one tried to bring off some 'coup' such as that useful little trick William had taught her, whereby one could flick the foil from an unwary opponent's hand. Perhaps something along the same lines was possible now. Certainly she must make the attempt.
They re-engaged, exchanging a gasping sobbing stroke apiece. As Beatrice lunged again Arabella, declining the skinned breasts now on offer, struck instead at the retreating right wrist.
Under the shock and pain of the unexpected blow, Beatrice's grip opened and the whip flew over her head to land on the grass behind her. As she staggered back, her heels caught in the soft ground and she fell with a grunt of expelled breath, flat on her back. Arabella gathered up the remnants of her strength and was on her like a tigress on its prey. Gasping and sobbing with the effort, she lashed the whip down full across the writhing, shrieking woman's once white mounds, now streaked with red and purple, with droplets oozing from the cuts. Again and again she struck, her own cries of desperation and effort mingling with Beatrice's screams and sobs as the wretched woman tried to get to her feet, but was driven back by the hail of blows. Twice she managed to turn half on her side, to get her knees under her and rise, but as Arabella knew only too well from her own bitter experience, it was no simple thing, hampered by petticoats and bound wrist, and flinching from the killing lashes on tender flesh. Nor did Beatrice have a rescuer at hand in the time-keeper. Arabella had brought off her coup at the very start of the round, and unless she could rise, Beatrice must endure two minutes of ferocious flogging of her breasts and sides.
But all was not certain for Arabella, even now. Her strength was nearly spent, and if she relaxed her onslaught for one moment, her enemy would gain her feet and her whip, and live to fight another round, something she knew was beyond her now.
"Damn you, woman," she sobbed, "won't you ever give up?" She struck again and again, her right arm shrieking its protest almost as loudly as she screamed with her effort, and Beatrice screamed her agony, and then hands were on her, staying her arm and holding her close.
"Enough! Enough, Arabella, darling," cried Lavinia, as she held her tight, "it's all over, she's cried for mercy, and offers her apologies. You've won."
Trembling and sobbing, Arabella dropped the whip and clung to her friend with her one free arm. Zelda's eager hands freed her left wrist, and together they led her to the side of the glade, now filled with early morning sun, and wrapped her cloak around her battered body. Across the way Beatrice had struggled to her knees while her seconds supported her, her body wracked by sobs, inaudible above Arabella's own hiccuping spasms. A shrill whistle blast pierced through the female lamentations, and a few minutes later the two carriages returned. It was two days before Arabella felt well enough to leave her bed, and then only very stiffly and painfully. Anything but the lightest wrap was out of the question over her lacerated breasts, which still throbbed agonizingly, despite the soothing lotions her maid had applied, and the cold poultices to reduce their swelling. How long it would be before she could bear to confine them in her corset she couldn't imagine, but she certainly shrank from even the thought of it now. Lavinia and Zelda called to see how she did, and bring her the latest talk of the town. "I'll do well enough, given time," she assured them. "My wounds are painful now, as they start to heal, but I don't look for any scarring in the long term. I think even my nipples will come right in time, though they're sadly battered, and I used to think them quite pretty." She opened her wrapper to display two grossly swollen and misshapen teats adorned with black dried scabs and rising from striped inflamed mounds, once milky white, now all the colours of the rainbow.
"Oh! Arabella! And you used to have the most darling pink buds. Let me kiss them better, so that they will return to their former beauty." Zelda leaned down and pressed her lips oh so gently to the tortured tips.
"Enough, enough, dearest. Your affection is very welcome, but you must reserve it for another day when my poor friends are ready for attention. Now what news have you. How is Beatrice, poor foolish woman that she is?"
"From what I hear, in no better shape than yourself, and not as cheerful, as you can imagine, she being the loser. The news has got out of course, and there are lurid tales going round about the duel." Zelda made a mouth and rolled her eyes. "Give it another day and they will be singing ballads in your honour, and selling penny broadsheets claiming to be 'The only true and full account of the famous duel of two Great Ladies' or some like tarradiddle."
"So it's all over town. I'm not one to care too much what the world thinks but this will be, to say the least of it, an embarrassment when I go about among my acquaintances."
"I fear so," agreed Lavinia, "the stories are correct enough in that they vindicate you in your quarrel with Beatrice, or rather, hers with you, but the details get more lurid with each telling. They have you standing, unflinching, while Beatrice lays a dozen lashes on your breasts. They have you with a nipple cut clean off. They even have it that you both fought quite naked in front of the coachmen, and other males who came to see the show."
"Well, that settles it, I think," sighed Arabella. "There's nothing for it but to withdraw from Society for a while until this has blown over. I will rest a little longer, until I can bear a corset and when I can dress with decency, and with my familiar feeling of security, I will take ship to Palermo and visit William. He has been after me for months now to join him there, and at least I shall escape an English winter." "Oh Arabella, we will be so sorry not to have you with us at Christmas. It was going to be such an exciting occasion at Cousin Charlotte's, at New Year."
"Why, so it will be still. You don't need me there for that. You've proved overwell that you are quite capable of causing each other the most exquisite pains without my help. I shall miss it though, as you say. Even in my present battered state I am aware of that, but I think it will be as well if I stick to my plan. I will spend Christmas with Brother William in a warmer clime where news of my exploits has not yet reached."