A period drama where two girls have to face the consequences of their actions.
By Jane Fairweather
“This supposedly fine hunter that I am hiring from London should be down at the station in three quarters of an hour, if the damn train is on time. It will need a groom, I suppose, but I don’t see any reason why we should not all walk down and see what I am wasting my money on. Who’s for coming with me?” Colonel Smyth asked genially of his wife and daughter, and his daughter’s very close friend, Elspeth, who were all sitting round in the lounge of the small hotel with, if the truth be known, not a great deal to do.
“Rather a lot of horse manure for me in these long skirts with all the horses for the hunt tomorrow!” Mrs Smyth laughed. “But the girls have got their walking clothes on and good boots, so there is no reason why they should not go. Do you want to go and see this magnificent piece of horse flesh, girls? You don’t have to. You could go on the walk you said you wanted to go on an hour ago before we all started gossiping. What about you, Elspeth, you are the guest?”
“I’d love to, Mrs Smyth. Thank you for asking.” Elspeth Jackson responded, rising to her feet.
“I’d love to go too.” Miss Genevieve Smyth added her voice to the chorus, and also stood up.
“And Henry, don’t pat Elspeth’s behind too often, even if she is a pretty girl. She is not one of your horses! And Elspeth, you tell him off if he does; you have my full permission to play the injured damsel.” Mrs Smyth said with a laugh that possibly hid some real concern that Elspeth and her husband had been flirting rather too much on the train down. “And Henry, do try not to swear; we don’t want our young guest to learn bad manners, now do we?”
“I will be good as the driven snow,” her husband replied in his turn, mixing his metaphors somewhat, and mischievously aiming a very mild pat at the seat of Elspeth’s walking habit, which, half to her annoyance, she barely felt.
“Really Henry!” Said his wife, and everyone laughed, including Mrs Smyth.
And yet Elspeth found herself wondering if her friend’s mother really liked her. For some reason, she had an odd feeling that Mrs Smyth would have liked nothing better than to have her whipped; she rather dreamily wondered if she could find herself presenting the seat of her combinations to the valiant colonel’s cane if she really annoyed Mrs Smyth. But she was getting too old for it, and there was very little chance it was going to happen again.
* * *
Nearly an hour and a half later, the two girls were shifting from one foot to another in their stylish walking costumes which, as Mrs Smyth had pointed out, were above the ankles and left their skirts out of the mud and horse dung that seemed to be everywhere in this small hunting town. They were getting very fed up with waiting for the train that was bringing the colonel’s hired hunter.
Colonel Smyth, who was genuinely into horses as behooved a former Indian Army cavalry officer, was passing the time with the groom, who seemed to be called Jake and was also madly into horses. Elspeth cursed the male chat. Jake was very handsome and seemed quite intelligent, and she would have happily flirted with him; she also was deeply into horses and it was so annoying that she could not get a word in edge-ways.
“Papa, is this train ever going to come?” Genevieve was saying with a good deal of irritation.
“I will ask the porters again,” said the Colonel with faint amusement at his daughter’s impatience.
The girls watched him vanish into the small building that acted as ticket office and porter’s room.
“I feel like going back to the Hotel.” Genevieve said irritably.
“Wouldn’t that be a little impolite to your Papa? Besides, I want to see this famous horse now I have waited this long.” Elspeth responded.
“I suppose so,” said Genevieve.
“The porters reckon it won’t be long now.” The colonel was saying.
“Look! There is smoke in the distance.” Jake, the groom, was saying.
And sure enough, before long a small local train with a horsebox drew up and three horses emerged. Two were handed over to grooms who were waiting, which left a very handsome piebald stallion that was handed over to the colonel and Jake with a minimum of formality. Both girls were enchanted by the splendid animal and patted it a great deal.
“Come on girls, enough of that. Better get it to the stable.” The colonel declared not unpleasantly. “You’d better lead it, Jake.”
They started on the three quarters of a mile to the local stables, where Jake worked and many of the horses for the next day’s hunt were kept, including the two girls’ mounts. As they strolled along, there was the whistle and noise of another train coming in very close behind the previous one.
‘Presumably,’ Elspeth thought, ‘the next train has caught up with the late one that brought the Colonel’s horse.’
She noticed with mild interest a small solid man in plus-fours, who looked as if he was very nicely off and was accompanied by a couple of well-got-up servants. As they were on opposite sides of the road, the two parties did not exchange courtesies.
The horse was more than a touch skittish, presumably because of its long journey, and gave Jake a lot of trouble controlling it, so their progress was irritatingly slow. Elspeth, at least, was sufficiently interested in this marvelous animal not to want to go back to the hotel when her friend suggested it, though they had been struggling along for over twenty minutes, perhaps more.
She was startled by the sound of running feet.
“Stop, Sir, Stop! You are stealing my horse,” came a roar.
Elspeth turned and saw the man in plus-fours waving a walking cane in a most alarming fashion and charging towards them, followed by his servants.
The colonel was not a man to run from anything, and he turned most determinedly and faced his accuser. The girls vaguely stood behind him, as much for protection as anything. Jake very sensibly halted the horse and led it in a circle as the creature was quite determined not to stand still, though not always inclined to go in the required direction.
“By god, Sir! What do you mean? I am Colonel Laurence Smyth, late of her Majesty’s Bengal Lancers, and I have never stolen anything in my life. This is a horse I have hired from stables in London for the hunt tomorrow. And this is my daughter and her friend. Do you think I would bring young girls with me or walk the horse if I were intent on stealing it?”
The colonel was red-faced and bristling. The man seemed to calm down just a little. He lowered his walking cane and gestured to his servants to hold back.
“What train was your horse due on, Sir?” The man in plus-fours was asking.
“Oh, the six o’clock, though it was pretty well the seven-thirty by the time it came,” said the colonel.
“Mine was due on the seven-thirty, a piebald stallion. It cost a fortune to rent. Your horse’s train must have somehow got behind mine. Still, Sir, you should be more careful of your good name, not just have assumed this was the horse for you. Did you not ask for paperwork at the station?” The man in plus-fours fulminated.
“Are you suggesting that my father is a thief? If so, you are a liar and should apologise!” Genevieve’s voice came out of nowhere.
Elspeth cursed Genevieve’s outburst. Her friend’s flashes of temper were always unpredictable, and this was definitely not the moment for it, for the situation had been calming down.
“I am very close to suggesting just that, and with every justification, Missy. And if you were my daughter, you would have what for. Such rudeness! I am Lord Mason of Hoynton, and I expect more courtesy and more respect from a slip of a girl. Thomas, take possession of the animal before I feel impelled to call the constable.”
The servant called Thomas took the halter of the horse from Jake and Lord Mason and his party departed.
“Well girls, I had better get down to the station with Jake. I expect the horse is there. I should have taken more notice of what they said they were sending,” Said Colonel Smyth rather wearily. “I imagine you would like to make your way to the hotel, would you girls? And incidentally, Genevieve, I did not think you behaved very sensibly, even if Lord Mason is an ass and a half. If you had been two or three years younger, some discipline would have been appropriate. As it is, I am not pleased with you.”
“Oh, he cannot have meant a whipping or anything like that. He was just taking it out on you because Lord Mason was so rude and he could not do anything about it.” Elspeth said, as the two young ladies walked the couple of hundred yards back to the hotel. “He said himself that Lord Mason is an ass; and I don’t suppose your dear Papa has even got a cane with him, though there are other methods, of course.”
“Oh, he will have a cane with him.” Genevieve said with an obvious shiver that surprised her friend. “Like you, I thought I was too old for it, and I took advantage of that to play a prank on cook. And she, if you please, worked it out and complained. I thought she was a better sport than that and I thought he would just let it go because I am nearly twenty, but he said that good cooks do not grow on trees and all servants are to be treated with respect. Just three strokes, but it stings so much and I was so humiliated and embarrassed. I hate it!”
“But you always used to say you didn’t mind it too much! And anyway, it does not sound that bad compared with my famous six of the very best after that horrible row with Mama. Mind you, I did behave absolutely dreadfully and I really deserved it.” Elspeth said, puzzled by her friend’s ambiguities.
“Well, I suppose I must mind my P’s and Q’s, but I am not going to be polite if I come across Lord Mason again and he is rude to me; and if I get a whipping, so be it, but Papa will probably just tick me off.” Genevieve stated ambiguously.
Elspeth shivered rather deliciously as she wondered if she would get the cane as well, if this unlikely event occurred. Although she had wept buckets and felt incredibly put down after her only caning, she had also experienced some odd, not altogether unpleasant, sensations afterwards and it sounded as if Colonel Smyth’s canings were nothing like so severe as her father’s. And if the truth be known, she was not wholly averse to the idea of being whipped by Colonel Smyth. That strange after-feeling might make it almost worthwhile, though she could not help shuddering at the thought as well.
* * *
“Actually,” the Colonel observed the following morning, sounding mollified, “This is a much steadier animal than that piebald. Wouldn’t surprise me if Lord Mason gets tossed off that creature.”
Elspeth smiled. Her legs in their leather breeches were neatly in place over the horn of her side saddle and the apron of her hunting habit was hiding them from too much public view, though it must be confessed she did not mind that much if the men caught a glimpse of her legs. She was well used to Bountiful and Bountiful was well used to her. She had fallen off a couple of times during the first year that she had ridden this lovely chestnut mare, but it had not happened for over a year and she felt sure this was going to be the splendid day’s hunting for which they had traveled so far from home. Not New Zealand or Australia, of course, or even India, all of which the Colonel and his family had visited, but a long way for her, Elspeth Jackson aged nearly twenty, who had never even crossed the Channel.
Genevieve, by contrast, looked slightly insecure on Lady, who was a grey and taller by a hand than Bountiful. Possibly it did not help, Elspeth pondered, that Genevieve took covering her legs from male sight more seriously than she did and so was much more encumbered by the elaborate apron of her hunting habit.
“We’d better stick together. I might need you if I get tossed off.” Genevieve was saying, echoing Elspeth’s thoughts.
“It will be fun to ride together anyway, but I doubt if you will get tossed; you are much more in control of Lady than you were.” Elspeth assured her friend.
Elspeth glanced round and noticed they were at the rear of the mass of horsemen and women who had assembled by the ‘Fox and Hounds’ inn on the common outside the small town of Wentworthy, where she had been staying at the hotel with the Smyths. The colonel had moved away from them nearer the front now, no doubt wanting to be up with the chase when it started. On the whole, Elspeth decided, she and Genevieve were better off here; it could get wild at the front of a hunt.
She vaguely noticed the abominable Lord Mason of Hoynton was not that far in front of them, and the piebald stallion was looking decidedly frisky. No doubt the horrible man was wary of the horse he had spent so much money to hire, and did not want to risk it too near the front of the Hunt. Or was he frightened of a tumble, she thought sardonically.
Then she glanced back at the mass of people following the Hunt. A good many of them were in small carts drawn by ponies or horse chaises or similar. They would follow as best they could from the lanes, or get out and walk at the appropriate moment. Among these was Mrs Smyth in a dog cart, who gave a cheery wave when she saw Elspeth looking. There were also numerous people walking, who would keep up as best they could.
She was suddenly aware of the annoying Lord Mason riding up flourishing his hat, and now he was having the effrontery to speak to them.
“Nice to see you young ladies again. You are just following, I expect, are you?”
“No, of course we are not just following!” Genevieve snapped. “I have ridden to hounds for years now, so has Elspeth.”
Dangerous game for a girl with such a crush of people and horses as there is today! I strongly advise the pair of you just to follow. It would be much safer for you.”
“Lord Mason, I and my friend are most certainly not afraid of riding after foxes!” Genevieve snarled.
“Well, have it as you will, Miss Smyth, but it was a poor day when women started riding to hounds.” The lord responded and rode off.
“Bloody man!” Said Genevieve. “We are going to have to keep up with him whatever happens. I won’t have him belittling our riding just because we are women and not men.”
“I suppose so,” Elspeth replied, wondering if getting into a mad race with Lord Mason was that good an idea, but not liking to say so; the man after all had been bloody rude.
* * *
An hour later, a fox had been started surprisingly early, and Elspeth and Genevieve were going full tilt about two thirds the way up to the front, rather mischievously keeping up with Lord Mason, who was clearly having some problems with his frisky mount. The Colonel was out of sight at the front of the Hunt, where the hounds were baying and the huntsman was blowing away, which contributed to a mass exhilaration that made everyone a little silly.
“You don’t have to follow me, you silly bitches!” The uncouth man had called out in one form or another on several occasions.
Well to be fair, Elspeth thought, the noble lord had started by calling them young ladies, but after several disputes at gates and fences about who had got there first, and so had the right to jump, his language had got steadily worse; and no doubt soon he would be swearing. Oh well, let him swear. The bloody man deserved everything he got, even if, the saner side of Elspeth concluded, they were pushing him more than was sensible. On the other hand, needling this disgrace to the nobility was such good fun and, of course, they must keep annoying him.
At the next hedge, the two girls surged over in the same breath and Lord Mason was forced to stand aside.
“I am not going to let that happen again, you fucking bitches, you silly tarts.” They heard behind them, and then he was surging past them towards the gate on the other side of the field.
The girls were after him; their blood was up too, for they were roused by the insults and there was, anyway, a certain exhilaration in this mad race. The other riders round them watched the threesome in some bewilderment as the decorum at difficult gates or fences that people gave way was ignored and there were several near accidents in consequence.
Then they came to a narrow gate with a tall hedge on each side, and though his lordship had reached the gate three or four strides earlier, all three horses rose into the air simultaneously.
Elspeth, who was by far the best rider of the three and was on the left, got over alright despite having to contend with the high hedge rather than the gate. She was just complimenting herself when she realized Genevieve, who was in the middle, had fallen off her horse, which must have caught the top rail of the gate and was lying in a heap, looking dazed. Her riding habit apron had come up and she was showing her leather breeches, which would not please her, Elspeth thought, but at least the horse looked alright and someone had already caught it.
The case unfortunately was very different with Lord Mason and the piebald. The stallion had landed very badly and was lying on its side bleeding from its belly, which it must have caught on the high hedge. Elspeth concluded Lord Mason had been in such a hurry that he had not bothered to go for the gate at all, but tried to get over the hedge which, unlike herself, he was simply not good enough to attempt. Or had Genevieve forced him away from the gate and towards the hedge, which you were not supposed to do, but people did.
Then Elspeth heard, as if echoing her thoughts: “You two did that deliberately. Your friend even pushed me. I have a good mind to horsewhip the pair of you, girls or no girls. If you ride like that you must take the consequences.”
And then it dawned on Elspeth that Lord Mason was striding towards her scything the whip through the air in a most alarming fashion as if he had every intention of carrying out his threat.
Elspeth, if the truth be known, nearly rode off, but that meant leaving poor Genevieve to face the music and just possibly a horse whipping, and she could not bring herself to do it.
Luckily, as she was still hesitating, an austere looking clergyman rode his cobb up to Lord Mason.
“Give me that whip, Sir! Have you no idea of chivalry? I am sure these sweet young creatures meant no harm. Horsewhipping a girl indeed! It was your own damnable lack of horsemanship, Sir, as much as anything. You started on the wrong stride in the wrong place as you well should know, and that horse looked much too strong for you anyway.’
Lord Mason did not surrender his vicious looking whip, but he did back off and turn his attention to the horse with the help of someone who seemed to know about such things.
Someone gave Genevieve a hand to put her foot on and she leaped back up onto her side saddle and moved away as fast as she could and joined Elspeth. Then, without a word, the two girls rode off, hoping the whole disaster would be soon forgotten.
“With any luck he won’t do anything when it comes down to it.” Elspeth observed when they had cantered a fair distance away from the main hunt and started to make a circular and surreptitious way back towards the town and the hotel.
Neither of them felt any desire to meet Lord Mason again. Elspeth kept wondering how serious the piebald stallion’s injuries were. It would be dreadful if it had to be put down, and had Genevieve pushed it deliberately or not? However, she did not like to raise such awkward questions. Perhaps the less she knew the better, not least because she doubted if Lord Mason was a man to let the thing rest, but at least he had not come straight after them.
“Yes, with any luck he won’t do anything.” Genevieve replied. “But he remembered I was Miss Smyth from last night and he may well remember my father is a colonel in the Indian Army. Papa did tell him that. He would only have to ask round a bit and he could easily find out our hotel and then, my girl, we could well be for the high jump. Apart from anything else, Papa hates anything that endangers horses.”
“Well, we had better keep quiet then and pray.” Said Elspeth, wryly wondering if her fantasy about having the cane from Colonel Smyth was going to come painfully true. It was certainly quite probable that Genevieve was for it, though with any luck the horrible Lord Mason would have calmed down by now and they would hear no more about it.
* * *
Elspeth woke with a feeling of relief. Nothing had happened the previous evening. The colonel had come back late to the hotel, full of the events of the chase, which he described with great fervour, for he was passionate about his hunting; but also decidedly inebriated after some convivial time spent in the ‘Fox and Hounds’. Mrs Smyth, who was not the most enthusiastic of hunt followers, had returned in her dog cart only twenty minutes after the girls and had remarked that no doubt they had got bored like her; there had been just too many people there to make it much fun. The girls had been very glad to agree with her.
She realized that Genevieve was washed and half-dressed. She had put her drawers on and was about to put her shift on. Elspeth noted that her friend’s bum, like her breasts, was plump and solid, unlike the small ovals of her own bottom and her embarrassingly small bosom. If Genevieve did get the cane, at least she had something substantial there to absorb it, though contrariwise she knew from her own previous experience that her own small behind suffered a lot when it was caned.
Still, with any luck it was not going to happen; if there was going to be a row, surely it would have happened already.
But, her brain kept insisting they could have been waking up to six of the best each before breakfast, which was the way it was done in quite a few homes and schools, not that she had the faintest idea how Genevieve’s punishments took place. Despite having been Genevieve’s bosom friend since she was fourteen, she had somehow never once been there when her friend had needed to be punished.
If a before-breakfast caning had occurred, would she have found herself averting her eyes with embarrassment from her friend’s tightly stretched drawers while the cane swished and the tears flowed, or would she have wanted to watch? She had an odd feeling that watching Genevieve have the cane might be rather interesting.
“Oh, you are up, are you?” Genevieve was saying. “I could not sleep for you snoring, you pig. I think we should put our walking costumes on again and head as far as we can out of town and stay well out of the way of that bloody man. It is a nuisance that the train home that Papa booked is not till tomorrow morning.”
“Well, that is perfectly sensible.” Elspeth replied. “He just wanted us and the horses to be recovered from the hunt before our long train journey.”
“In normal circumstances it would be sensible, of course,” said Genevieve. “But with Lord Mason on the warpath, I am not that happy about it. And Papa will have a hangover after yesterday, which always makes him grumpy. No, a good long walk is what is called for, my dear, and a small picnic from the hotel kitchen. They will probably be quite obliging if we ask nicely.”
* * *
It was past five o’clock and the two girls were feeling a great deal happier. They were good and experienced walkers, and they had made their way across country to the lovely hamlet of Oshcombe and then up the hill above it where they had enjoyed their little picnic and a splendid view of rolling countryside.
Coming back, they felt almost drunk with the lovely day and the exercise, and entwined their arms and sang ‘Marching Through Georgia’, which was an old favourite, a number of times, not to mention ‘Men of Harlech’ and ‘Molly Malone’ and several others. However, they were now back at the edge of the town and a certain amount of decorum had descended, not to mention worry about the previous day’s catastrophe.
“I vote we go straight upstairs and change. If we take our time, with luck we can avoid too much time with my parents to say the wrong thing or get asked awkward questions.” Genevieve suddenly came out with.
“Oh you are devious, my dear.” Elspeth laughed and squeezed her hand. “But if we get done we had better make a clean breast of it. Otherwise it will just get worse and worse.”
“I think if Lord Mason was going to complain, and Papa was going to take any notice, then it would have happened this morning. The real risk is that we will land ourselves in it because one of us lets something slip.” Genevieve responded.
“You didn’t do anything to Lord Mason’s horse when we jumped, did you?” Elspeth suddenly asked; it was something that had been worrying her all day.
“No, of course not. Why ever do you ask? You’re not going to take the stupid man’s side are you?” Genevieve replied, sounding decidedly piqued.
“No, of course I take your word for it, but Lord M was so angry and he seemed to really believe you had done something.”
“He was just being an ass, of course he was. I am amazed you are even considering the possibility I was in the wrong.”
“Sorry if I doubted you, I just wanted to be sure.”
“Oh, let’s forget it. I suppose you had to ask. Now, let us see if we can get to our room without my parents spotting us! That should give us an hour at least before we have to talk to them.”
Elspeth could not help feeling that creeping in by the back door and avoiding conversation rather suggested they had done something wrong, but nevertheless she followed Genevieve up the un-carpeted back stairs of the hotel, the soles of their boots echoing on the wooden steps as they went.
They emerged on the landing that contained Genevieve’s parents’ room and their own and two others, only to walk straight into Mrs Smyth, who had taken her knitting and a novel out into one of several armchairs on the landing. Elspeth, who did not like being deceitful, blushed quite a lot.
“Oh, there you are girls,” Mrs Smyth observed, glancing at them sardonically over the top of her glasses. “We were wondering when you were going to get back.”
“We are terribly dusty, Mother, and our boots are covered in mud, and, well you know, stuff. It was why we came up the back stairs. Do you think you could bear to wait to hear how we got on while we change?” Genevieve stated, sounding as if butter would not melt in her mouth, Elspeth could not help thinking.
“Well, your boots can come off, I suppose. We would not want the hotel’s carpets getting wrecked, now, would we? But apart from that, your father and I would be grateful to talk to you in our room. Now, if you please, girls.”
The two girls exchanged glances, but there seemed little to do except sit in turn in the other arm chair on the landing and help one another out of their tight-fitting leather boots.
“I must say I was expecting more mud, but there we go.” Mrs Smyth remarked with just a twinkle in her eye when the operation was completed. “But now, girls, into our room! The Colonel and I would like an explanation from you.”
They followed Mrs Smyth’s short, rather plump, body in its plain brown dress. Elspeth, for one, could feel her heart pound and she suspected Genevieve was the same. It was quite a large room with a four poster bed and a fireplace with an armchair on each side of it. Colonel Smyth was sitting in one of them, reading ‘The Times’ in his waistcoat. However, he put the paper down when he heard them enter. Mrs Smyth arranged herself in the other armchair with a slight swish of skirts. The girls found themselves standing very uncomfortably, being raked by the eyes of the two adults, neither of whom looked very pleased.
“You came back rather early yesterday, didn’t you? Why?” Mrs Smyth asked abruptly.
“We told you yesterday, Mama. We got bored with the hunt. There were just so many people there.” Genevieve stated.
“It would not be after a rather unfortunate incident with Lord Mason, would it?” The colonel asked.
“Well, there was a bit of a tangle at a fence, and it all got a bit boring.” Genevieve said, sounding very lame, Elspeth thought.
“Well, I will tell you what I have been told about this tangle, as you call it.” The Colonel said, looking his daughter fiercely in the eye. “First of all, I get a letter from his lordship (delivered here yesterday, but I did not see it till today, after you had gone walking) saying you deliberately swished his horse with your whip, causing it to fall badly at a difficult fence, and he expects you to be disciplined and the vet’s bill to be paid. Well, I had seen his lordship in action myself, so I was not that impressed. He is the sort of man who, if he can read anything wrong, will do it. Just taken a tumble and blames my daughter, I thought.
“However, then your Mother said the pair of you came back from the hunt much earlier than she would have expected, looking sheepish. So I asked round a couple of fellas I know. It seems you two got yourselves in a private race with the stupid man and you were doing some damn stupid, dangerous things, quite apart from anything he was up to; dangerous to other riders and not just the noble lord Mason, and you were putting your horses at risk, which I always find unforgivable. Do you recognise anything resembling what happened in what I have just said?”
“He started it, calling us names and saying we should not be riding in the hunt because we were girls.” Elspeth cut in.
“Which would have been fine if you had left it at that and shown how well you could conduct yourselves in the face of the man’s rudeness.” Mrs Smyth said very severely. “But you didn’t, did you?”
“We lost our tempers, I suppose, and wanted to show him what for, but he did ask for it.” Said Elspeth.
“And clearly it all got dangerously out of hand.” The Colonel cut in. “So what actually happened at this famous fence, Elspeth? And don’t lie, quite apart from Lord Mason’s rather colorful letter, I have heard two very clear and sensible accounts that almost agree.”
“It was really a small gate with quite a high hedge rather than a fence. He got there just a fraction before we did and we should have held back, but we all jumped at the same moment, more or less. I was on the left and I cleared the hedge, just. When I got over I could see Genevieve on the ground and her horse running about, and Lord Mason’s horse was down too, and bleeding, and he was running round looking very angry and heading for me with his whip in his hand. I think he really meant to horsewhip us, he was that angry. Luckily, there was an old vicar or something and he told him off. And then we got away as quickly as we could and headed back to the hotel.”
“So Genevieve was next to you and she was next to his Lordship? That is right, is it?” The Colonel was asking very precisely.
“Yes, exactly.” Said Elspeth, thinking she at least was free of blame for the accident.
“For what it may be worth, my old friend, Mr Johnson, who was watching, says your jump was one of the best he’s ever seen, Elspeth.”
“Thank you!” said Elspeth with a distinct glow of pride.
“But he also added the hedge was far too high for your horse and you should not have attempted it.”
Elspeth did not reply to that.
“Now Genevieve,” The Colonel went on. “How close did you get to the irritating Lord Mason’s horse before you jumped?”
“I don’t know. Four, five, six feet, something like that. Probably too close, I know, but I don’t believe I touched him.”
“He says two or three feet, and oddly, old Cannon Joseph, who seems to have been watching quite closely and has been to a lot of hunts in his time, says there was definitely no more than two feet between you when you started, and that you actually touched in the air, which was what made both horses fall.”
“We seemed to get terribly close in the air, certainly,” said Genevieve. “We seemed to be heading together. I am honestly not sure what happened after we landed.”
“You did not touch his horse with your whip before you jumped, when you saw how close you were?”
“I don’t remember doing that, but I am a bit hazy about the whole thing.”
“Lord Mason says you did deliberately use your whip on his horse. However, the Cannon says you did, but he was sure it was an accident.”
“I might have done, I am not sure.” Genevieve muttered rather lamely.
“Well,” said Colonel Smyth. “I think we have established the facts reasonably clearly, and thanks to both of you for being reasonably honest. I will pay the wretched man’s veterinary bills and you, Genevieve, will repay me by losing half your monthly allowance till I am paid back. And Genevieve is going to have the cane from me for being so damn stupid and putting other people and other people’s horses at risk. I must say, if I could give the damn Lord Mason a taste of the rattan at the same time I would gladly do so.”
“And what about Elspeth?” Mrs Smyth suddenly said. “She isn’t your daughter, but she is equally guilty of reckless riding.”
“Well, what would you prefer, Elspeth? I can write a letter to your father telling him the facts and suggesting a caning would be very appropriate, or I can deal with you at the same time as Genevieve.”
Elspeth paused for a second, all too aware of Mrs Smyth’s eyes on her. She had always had the feeling Mrs Smyth did not like her. Still, she was honest enough to know she deserved to be punished, and she knew from her only previous experience of the cane that a good hiding from her father would be absolutely excruciating. Besides, if she had it today at least it would be over and she would not have to wait at least a day, quite possibly more than that, which would be almost worse than the punishment.
“I will take my punishment from you, Sir.” She found herself saying in a terribly formal sounding way.
“Very well, girls, I will give you ten minutes to reduce yourselves to your drawers and your shifts and bend over the end of the bed side by side and then I will come back and deal with you.” The Colonel announced.
Then the two adults left the room without saying another word.
Elspeth, for one, found their departure slightly unnerving, though she found it hard to say why. However, the two girls were quite used to helping one another out of their clothes when a maid was not available, for they had been away together on holidays of one sort or another on a number of occasions; and they got on with it almost without saying a word. The two corsets were the real problem, of course, and Elspeth found herself cursing that Genevieve had insisted on being laced up so tight in the morning, but in the end they managed it with three minutes or so to spare.
“Well, I am not bending over yet!” Genevieve declared with a glance at the clock above the mantel piece. “Let’s leave it a minute or two, but he will expect us to be in position when he comes in.”
“Does he cane one of you and then the other?” Elspeth asked, trying to sound nonchalant, but genuinely wanting to know.
“Not if it is like when I was younger and I used to get punished with my brothers. He will give one of us three, and then the other one three, and then repeat it. It will probably be six a piece. The last one is always very hard, mind, and leaves a real bruise. The other five sting like billy-oh but they don’t usually leave much of a mark. At least I hope that is what happens. Papa could be mad enough to give me six real stingers. He is not at all pleased with me, but you’re a guest and he likes you, so the chances are it won’t be too bad.”
“Well, at least it will almost certainly be our last caning, or anything else like that. I feel really embarrassed and ashamed getting it at nearly twenty.” Elspeth said with some feeling.
“I would not count on it with my Papa, though he is very fair and I always deserve it. I was just born naughty, I suppose. I must admit, though, it always does something for me after the worst of it has worn off. Do you find that?”
“I have only had it once and it was horribly painful, though there was an odd feeling when the worst of it had gone, not that I am particularly happy to be going through this again.” Elspeth replied with a shudder.
“Oh, I suppose we had better bend over.” Genevieve said wearily, pulling her white shift out of her white drawers and lifting it above her waist, which apparently must be required though no one had said.
Elspeth watched her friend’s ample bottom thrusting out over the end of the bed through a pair of white drawers. She almost giggled, it was so ridiculous and unladylike; but that, no doubt, Elspeth decided, was the point. She reluctantly pulled her own shift out of her drawers, lifted it above her waist and positioned herself perhaps three feet to the right of her friend. She felt her drawers tighten and clenched her teeth and grasped the bed cover with her hands.
There was an awkward, painful silence, which neither of the girls felt like breaking, and seemed to Elspeth to last a terribly long time, though surely it could not have been more than a minute.
Then the door was opening and she could hear a certain amount of fumbling about, followed by the noise of what was undoubtedly a cane being swished. However, the actual punishment did not start for at least a minute. The Colonel was playing with them, trying to get them really worked up, Elspeth decided, noticing to her disgust that real tears were flowing out of her eyes into the bed cover.
There was a swish and a yelp; poor Genevieve’s punishment was beginning.
There was a second rather louder swish and Genevieve was saying: “Please, not so hard, Papa.”
It sounded horribly as if Genevieve was getting six real stingers, just as she had feared.
The third stroke produced an agonised: “Yow, ow, ow, ow.”
‘My turn!’ Elspeth thought, but then realized that the cane had cracked and swished, and Genevieve had let out what could only be described as a howl.
Maybe Genevieve was getting all six at one go? But then she heard footsteps and she felt the cane tap the seat of her drawers, and she tensed. The cane descended low on her bottom and stung so much. She just about managed to restrain a yelp. The process was repeated twice more, during which time she could feel herself twisting about and the bedspread got a good deal wetter with her tears, but she was proud of the fact that she did not cry out.
Then it was Genevieve’s turn again. Her friend was undoubtedly getting it worse than she was, Elspeth concluded as she listened to the shrieks and howls. When it was over, she could hear Genevieve was really blubbering her eyes out.
And now it was her second three, as if her bottom was not burning enough from before, she thought wryly. The first one caught the top of her thighs really hard, and for the first time she called out. The second one was into the soft skin in the crease between bottom and thighs and she really shrieked. The third was incredibly hard and seemed to divide her small bottom in two, and she put back her head and howled for several minutes.
When she came back to the world and staggered upright she realized to her annoyance that Mrs Smyth had been there watching the whole thing from one of the armchairs.
“You were quite brave, Elspeth. Was that your first caning?” The bloody woman was saying.
“No, my second.” Elspeth snapped.
“My husband is quite good at it, isn’t he? Should have been a headmaster, I think.”
Elspeth ignored her and pulled Genevieve to her feet, who was still slumped over the end of the bed and half tugged and half walked her into the room they were sharing. Half an hour’s intense cuddling later, they felt able to wash their welts and apply some cream.
“Did we really deserve that? It was so severe.” Elspeth fulminated.
“Well, I know I did.” said Genevieve, ‘I really did use my whip on that damn stallion. I was so mad with Lord Mason for jumping at the same time as I wanted to. I used it both before the jump and during it.”
“It’s that poisonous temper of yours; it will get you hanged one of these days.” Elspeth said laughing, but also quite deeply shocked. She had so wanted to believe her friend was innocent.
“I suppose all this has ruined your holiday and you won’t come away with me again.” Genevieve continued very pensively.
“Of course I will come with you again. It’s been fun, it always is when you are around, even today in a strange way. I will probably tell my grandchildren about the day I got caned for riding recklessly at the side of my bosom friend.” Elspeth declared with a certain bravado. “I wonder if they will believe me; it sounds so improbable, doesn’t it somehow?”
“I don’t suppose I will ever feel like telling the story. It does not exactly show me in a good light. Still, presumably it is the last time I will have to stick my bum over the end of a bed and have it well and truly thrashed whether I like it or not, which is something, I suppose, almost to celebrate.” Genevieve said with something approaching a grin.
© Jane Fairweather 2019
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