There was something odd about the mirror, more so than any other object of antiquity in Howegarth House. The reflective surface often appeared darkened, as if shadows lurked inside it, projecting themselves outward. As tall as a man, bevelled at the edges and framed in ornate gilt, the mirror hung on the library wall opposite the windows.
Kelly was unable to stop staring at the mirror. She peered, almost leaning into her reflection, half expecting some hidden hand to reach out and grab at her. If her dark locks of hair hadn’t been tied back, she could imagine them blurring into the gloom.
“Moira,” she called out to her colleague. “How long has this mirror been in the house?”
Moira had worked at Howegarth House for a few years. “According to the inventory, probably 1840s. It was brought to the house by the first Lord Yarlswood.”
The Yarlswoods had owned Howegarth House for over a century. Post-World War II, the inheritance tax had clobbered them and they’d given the property to the local authority, who in conjunction with various historical societies had turned the house into a museum.
It wasn’t Kelly’s first choice of employment. As a young graduate of history, she’d wanted to work in a city or national museum, like the Imperial War Museum or the V&A. But, jobs were hard to find, especially for an untested curator. She’d applied to Howegarth House, which operated on a shoestring, as a backup, a temporary measure. Two months into the job, it was fast becoming a necessary measure. She’d debts mounting, rent overdue, and too many credit cards.
The old house had been built at the end of the eighteenth century and currently was kept in a style the last Yarlswood had clung onto: a mixture of Victorian clutter and an odd kind of avant garde twenties styling. It really didn’t work. However, the variety made the house appealing to visitors, who visited at the weekends in the spring and summer.
Moira checked her watch. “You don’t mind me clocking off early? This effing tooth of mine. I can’t wait for a regular appointment; I’ve got an urgent one this evening.”
“Sure,” said Kelly. “Go. I’ll lock up.”
Moira dashed off, clutching her lower jaw.
Locking up was a tedious task. Each room had to be checked, the humidity and temperatures recorded in logs and the curtains drawn, and not forgetting the burglar alarm and securing the display cabinets.
The exhibits included enough china and porcelain in the house to cater for a banquet, a collection of miniature portraits painted by a famous painter, and silverware engraved with the Yarlswood coat of arms. Kelly’s main task since arriving at Howegarth was cataloguing the library onto a new system and dealing with any conservation issues, which was a mammoth undertaking. Every single book was on the verge of disintegration and had to be handled with gloves.
The dust created covered most surfaces, except the mirror. For some reason it never settled on it.
With Moira gone, she was in a hurry to finish up. There was only the two of them working full-time. The museum manager, Graeme, who looked after three sites, visited once a week and the rest of the time it was Kelly and Moira, plus Dave. She often forgot Dave. He fulfilled the jack-of-all-trades role, which usually meant he shifted the heavy furniture and dealt with the electrical faults. Howegarth was in desperate need of new wiring, plumbing, and central heating. The place was a freezer in the winter.
Kelly blew on a chilled hand and reached out to touch the mirror—not one speck of dust. Most peculiar. She stroked the reflective surface again, tracing her outline in the mirror. Behind her, the mantel clock struck a solitary chime, signalling the hour: four o’clock. As she moved closer, her fingers vanished into the glass.
Kelly’s heart skipped a beat. Mesmerised, as if controlled by a hypnotic trance, she watched the mirror swallow her hand. The cold surface drew her in deeper, dragging her toward the mirror. Her ankle knocked against the gilt frame and without really thinking, she lifted her foot over the rim and into the mirror.
It was sucking her in, drawing her to its centre with a strong magnetic pull and the sensation wasn’t just physical; she felt compelled to see beyond the mirror. Rather than fight it, or attempt to back away, she continued to drift into the warped reflection until it merged with her actual body and became one. She was in the mirror, passing through it and out again.
On the other side she found the library. The same room. The same shelves lined with leather-bound books, the spiral staircase leading up to the upper gallery and the once-private rooms of the Yarlswood family. However, the familiarity ended there. Gone were the drapes she recognised, the wallpaper and the rugs, too. The mahogany desk was now oak, the leather chair smooth, and lacking the tears and creases of wear. The room was lit by lamps on the walls, which flickered with flames, not low-light bulbs. The portraits had changed too. The life-sized portrait of the fourth Lord Yarlswood, the last owner and painted in the 1920s, was missing. In its place was the one of his great-grandfather, the first lord, Richard, who was a small, but more imposing figure in his knighthood regalia and military uniform. He’d fought in the Crimean War.
“What the…” Kelly muttered. She spun around and faced the mirror. The gilt was shinier and unscratched, the reflection no longer warped.
With her heart pounding and feeling somewhat dizzy and nauseous, she slumped into the chair, normally something she’d never dream of doing. Sitting on the precious objects was forbidden.
She breathed deeply, covering her face with her hands and waited for the room to stop spinning. Peeking out between her fingers, she wanted it all to be her imagination, a daydream of some sort. However, it was still there.
She listened, cocking her ear. Howegarth House wasn’t a country retreat; instead, it was smack in the middle of a town, although set aside in a reasonable garden and hidden by trees. Usually, cars zoomed past or there was the rumble of the nearby trains departing the station. Now she heard nothing, at least nothing that obvious or familiar. What was that sound coming from outside?
Rising, she crept forward to the window and drew back the drapes. It was dark outside—a winter evening and the sun had already set. The road lay in the distance behind the trees and was barely visible. No sign of cars. What she thought she saw under the dim streetlights were horse hooves and wagon wheels.
“Oh, my, God,” she gasped, pulling the curtain together. “This is a dream. I’m dreaming.” She pinched her forearm and it hurt, then she slapped her face, not hard, and the blow stung. However, nothing seem to jolt her out of her supposed dream. It felt too real.
She returned to examine the desk. This desk, unlike the one she expected to be in the library, had a blotter, an inkwell, and drawers down one side. She opened the lid of the inkwell and inside was black liquid. The only other items on the desk were a book—a compendium of some sort although she didn’t recognise the title as part of the collection—and a handwritten note stuffed half under the blotter.
With regard to the maid-of-all-work, I have made enquiries and placed an advertisement in the Evening News. As yet, no suitable applicants have stepped forward. Ruth marries in one month’s time and I hope that a replacement will be appointed by then, if not before.
Had somebody slipped this out of the archive and left it on the desk? It looked freshly written, the paper untainted by age or curling. Undated, too. The peculiar sensation churning in Kelly’s stomach intensified.
Sitting down at the desk, she opened the top drawer. Inside were a few blank sheets of paper and pens: proper fountain pens with smooth wooden handles. Further down was a drawer filled with ledgers. She opened one and deciphered the complex lettering: an account of a business. A shoe factory. The Yarlswoods had made their fortune in shoes. As far as she was aware, these ledgers had been lost, thrown out by the family before it bequeathed the house to the trustees.
The last date on the ledger was January 8, 1881. It gave her a chilling tingle down her spine—had she moved through time? Impossible. Yet, everything around her told her differently, including the smell of smouldering embers in the fireplace and lamp oil. No, it couldn’t be possible; she had to find a logical explanation.
The bottom drawer was stiffer and she tugged on it. Something gave. She grimaced. It might have been locked and she’d probably broken into the drawer.
Inside and pushed to the back of the drawer was one solitary bound notebook. She listened again and heard nothing, no footsteps or voices. Just as it should be. As far as she was concerned she was the only one in the house. At least, she had been before she was dragged into the mirror.
The handwriting in the book was different to the ledger. It was a journal with dates and jottings, some more lengthy than others. What caused her to snatch her breath were the drawings.
Whoever had authored the journal wasn’t simply recording a diary, they were describing incredible scenes of discipline and drawing pictures to accompany the descriptions. Kelly gasped at the sketches of naked bottoms, which included the creases above the thighs, and the deeply shaded cleft as if to hide what lay between the buttocks. The figures were bent over and on many of the bottoms were tramlines. Written in the margins were detailed descriptions of the number of marks; the bruises and welts. Scanning the words, it was apparent the tone wasn’t profane or ugly, but rather scientific and thoughtful. The accounts were made more remarkable by the graphic intricacies the author had provided about the manner of the punishments, including the implements used and number of strokes.
Kelly thumbed through the pages. Ten, no, a dozen or more accounts of spankings. All on women’s bottoms and each page written in the same handwriting. The tone remained the same—impersonal and factual, and not once were the names of the women provided, only their ages, which ranged from eighteen to twenty-two, and a summary of their disposition.
A pervert? Some ghastly, deranged individual who took pleasure in having young women spanked and wrote down the details of their punishments. Why the hell would anyone do such a thing?
Kelly returned to the front page, and its title.
A treatise on discipline, in particular the characterisation of bare bottom spanking and its pervasive response on ill-mannered young women.
It appeared to be a genuine study, as if it were possible to study such a thing as spanking. She slammed the book shut, then, unable to resist the temptation, she opened it again and continued to read.
Kelly’s fascination with spanking was born in minutes, not days or months. She couldn’t stop reading, poring over the pictures. Her heart fluttered with excitement and her nipples tingled, hardening into pebbles under the padded cups of her bra.
Subject C. Nineteen years old. Cloth merchant’s daughter, slovenly in appearance, caught chewing tobacco and drinking ale. Twenty strokes of the cane, administered bare bottomed and with legs bound to chair.
C is a noisy girl, unable to stay bent, necessitating the use of the restraining straps. Buttocks generous and plump. Thighs tapered. First marks obtained with the rattan, which was sparingly used on her pale behind. Note: freckled-face girls often have freckled bottoms. Curious.
Ten lines, adequately spaced, two raised into moderate welts. Closer inspection between her thighs revealed another budding response.
What did that mean? She browsed the journal, hunting for some kind of explanation, but there was nothing written down.
Subsequent ten applied with rod of bamboo accompanied by a brisk lecture on deportment for young ladies. Subject C’s unravelling progressed to a great state of immodesty, whilst I endured her squeals of discomfort. Lesson completed with ten-minute period in corner during which I made my sketches of her bottom.
December 12, 1880. The date written in small print just below the account. Could the journal have been written by the then owner of Howegarth House? Or had it been confiscated by somebody and hidden, maybe acquired illicitly to satisfy some kind of curiosity on the part of the reader? Kelly hunted for other dates. All of them were between 1880 and 1881. At that time, the house was in the ownership of the second Lord Yarlswood, Arthur.
According to what she’d read in the files relating to the history of the house, Arthur had spent much of his life exploring southern Africa, and paid little interest to his estates and businesses. He returned home to father a boy and then promptly packed the child off to boarding school while his neglected wife indulged in her love of spas and eating. In his place, while he travelled, his younger brother, Sir Henry, inhabited Howegarth House.
Little was known about Sir Henry, a late addition to the family having been born ten years after his brother. He lived quietly, unmarried, almost a recluse in the social circles of the time. However, he emerged sufficiently to work as a magistrate and social reformer, especially in the sponsorship of reformatories that had sprung up to deal with delinquency. These activities had earned him a knighthood at the tender age of twenty-eight. Kelly wished she could remember more about him. When had he died? His brother Arthur had succumbed to some fever in Africa and the young boy, William, had inherited the title. Until he came of age, William’s responsibilities were given to Henry and in later years, his uncle had left Howegarth House, installing William in his place as the young man reached maturity. Henry had then vanished. Well, not quite. He wrote to William, assisting him with the running of the family business and occasionally visited—the accounts were presented in William’s own diary, which Kelly had briefly perused a few weeks ago. However, it wasn’t clear where he’d gone.
Henry, concluded Kelly, had to be the author of the journal. A man who had a responsibility for dealing with delinquents and handing out punishments for minor misdemeanours, probably believed in the importance of discipline. But why had he witnessed the spanking of a merchant’s daughter, who’d merely chewed tobacco—hardly a criminal offence. Who had performed the deed? Had he sat and watched, scribbling in his book, drawing pictures? Was he hungry for the humiliation of women? It troubled Kelly that Henry seemed less than honourable in his actions. It was also greatly bothered Kelly that even with all these questions she wanted to know more about what he’d done or witnessed.
She couldn’t stay here. It wasn’t where she belonged and she’d no idea what would happen if she lingered any longer.
She returned the book to the drawer, closed it, and pushed the chair back behind the desk, exactly as she’d found it. Turning, she faced the mirror.
“Please, please…” she reached out, “let me go.”
Nothing. The silvery surface refused to give. Panicking, she pressed her palms against it, pushing as if it might open like a door. Feeling sick, she paced the room, wondering if there was another exit—the fireplace? A portrait? Something in another room? She dare not leave the house, fearing that if caught, she might be dispatched to a police station and given her appearance—jeans and hooded sweater—declared insane.
The clock chimed five o’clock. A whole hour had gone by!
The mirror darkened, as if a veil had been drawn across it. She scurried over to it. She felt them, icy tendrils, like tentacles, sucking her into the heart of the mirror. In the split second of darkness, she couldn’t breathe, blink, or move. Then, the mirror released her into the library.
Squinting, she tentatively checked around the room. Everything was as she had left it. The antique mantel clock ticked in the background, still showing four o’clock. She’d been gone for a blink of an eye.
Backing away from the mirror, she noticed it appeared lighter, less imposing.
Dare she touch it again?
Not tonight. One scary experience was enough for one day. She rattled off her remaining duties, dashing from room to room, switching off lights, checking the security systems before bolting the front door. Then she ran down the street to catch the train. What she needed was a bottle of wine and a good book. Maybe one of those kinky ones that told of women’s sexual fantasies.
After a fitful night’s sleep, during which she’d dreamed about floating bare bottoms and wax candles—she’d picked an especially kinky book for her Kindle—Kelly wolfed down her breakfast, caught the train, and arrived at a fog-swathed Howegarth House.
Moira, clutching her jaw, mumbled a, “Morning.”
“Any better?” Kelly asked.
“Not really. Antibiotics for now and if they don’t work, I’ve got to have it out.”
Kelly winced in sympathy. She’d decided not to mention the mirror, not until she’d done some research on it. Moira disappeared up into the attic, where the off-show objects were stored. Her job was to identify the peculiar items Arthur had brought back from Africa. Moira was convinced he’d no idea some of them were for improving fertility.
In the basement, by the old kitchen, and probably the location of the housekeeper’s room, was the curator’s office. It had been modernised with extra electrical sockets, halogen lights, and a small kitchenette for making light snacks. There was one desk, which she shared with Moira.
Kelly hijacked the computer and fired up the collections catalogue, honing in on the mirror. According to the record it had been bought by the first Lord Yarlswood. However, there was no indication of where he’d bought it or from whom. It had remained in the library until the third Lord Yarlswood, another Henry, and probably named after his great-uncle, had it taken down and covered it in a dust sheet in the attic. When the house had passed into the hands of the trustees, they’d resurrected it and rehung it in the library. That was it. Nothing else. No descriptions of strange occurrences or magical activities associated with the mirror.
What had Kelly expected? If the mirror had such properties, the house would have been inundated with paranormal enthusiasts, newspaper reports, and by now, television documentaries using secret cameras or shaky handheld devices. Was the mirror sentient? Had it chosen Kelly as its victim or was it purely chance, a lucky moment when she’d happened to stand right up close to it?
The clock had chimed four when she’d gone through the mirror and again five when she returned. Were the clock and mirror related? She needed to research the clock. It wasn’t as old as the mirror, acquired in 1873 from a Swiss manufacturer as a gift for Arthur’s wife, Mary. She’d left it in the house, having chosen to live out her life not in Howegarth, but at the seaside retreat owned by her mother-in-law’s family. There she’d raised William until he came of age. So, the clock was nothing special. Then, perhaps it was time itself that had prompted Kelly’s journey.
With a foreboding sense of trepidation, she made her way to the library and faced the mirror. Her reflection shone brightly, picking up the morning sun. The dark shadows she’d seen the previous day were absent. It seemed quite ordinary once again. With a trembling finger, she touched the cold glaze and met resistance.
“Hello?” she whispered. “Anyone there?”
She giggled. How silly. Of course nobody was there, just her.
She returned to cataloguing and typing up the details of each book on the laptop she’d brought from the back office.
The clock ticked quietly in the background and she struggled to concentrate, making stupid mistakes. At lunchtime, she met up with Moira in the office. Her colleague had brought soup and grimaced in pain as she sipped. Kelly ate a sandwich she’d picked up from the train station on the way in.
“You’re lucky having to work in the library. I have to go up into the freezing attic,” Moira complained.
“You’ll have to start wearing thermal underwear,” Kelly suggested.
“Oh, God, no. Like my granny? I’ll just bring in a thicker jumper or a fleece jacket. How the servants lived up there, I don’t know.”
“Were there many? I mean, it’s not a big house.”
Moira stirred the soup with her spoon. “In Victorian times they had a housekeeper, butler or senior footman, probably a live-in gentleman’s valet, a lady’s maid, a cook and her assistants, and a maid-of-all-work or housemaids, depending on how many people were living here.”
“So for example, in Sir Henry Yarlswood’s time, when he lived here alone, who would be living here with him?”
“His father, Richard, squeezed his footmen and housemaids into the servants’ quarters. Must have been cramped. But when he died, and his wife chose to live quietly by the sea with her daughter-in-law, Mary, and her grandson, Henry kept only a handful of servants and most of those lived out. The laundry maid, footman, those whose services were mainly required in the day, lived nearby. He ran a frugal house, by all accounts.”
Kelly remembered the note left on the desk. “What’s a maid-of-all-work? Would she live in?” She nibbled on her sandwich.
“She did everything, poor girl. Both housemaid and scullery maid combined, anything that needed doing. Up early and to bed late. She’d have lived up in that freezing attic.” Moira blew on her soup. “Bit like us really. Doing everything that needs doing.” She chuckled, then winced. “Bloody tooth.”
“Poor you,” Kelly sympathised. “Henry… was he a kind man, do you think? I mean, would he have treated his servants well?”
Moira shrugged. “Don’t know. Henry is a mystery. He lived here after graduating from Oxford University. Good business head, well-respected justice of the peace, often taking a close interest in the local prisons and reformatory schools.”
“So a bit of a disciplinarian?” Kelly risked asking.
Moira, unperturbed by the line of questioning, added another shrug. “Weren’t all Victorians so? Although that stiff upper lip nonsense hid a lot of shenanigans. Behind closed doors, the Victorians weren’t that prudish. You only have to look at vintage erotica photograph collections.”
Kelly would, when she had the chance, but at home and not on the work computer.
The afternoon passed uneventfully and as the time shifted close to four o’clock, she hovered by the mirror, wondering if she dared touch it. The temptation was too much. At four o’clock as the mantel clock chimed, her hand shot out and she pressed her palm to the mirror. Holding her breath, she waited for the icy sensation, the cloud to cover her eyes and draw her through.
Nothing. After a few minutes, she removed her hand. She’d left a misty palm print on the glass, which showed no sign of darkening.
“Okay,” she muttered. “A one-off. Let’s just forget yesterday ever happened.”
A little before five, Moira stuck her head around the door. “I’m off. You okay locking up again?”
“Nice evening for a moonlit walk.” Moira nodded to the window where the moonlight peeped between the tree branches.
“It looks like a full moon,” Kelly said.
“Was yesterday. Today it’s waning.”
Kelly froze. “Yesterday was a full moon?”
“Yep. Hidden behind the clouds, but it was there.” She smiled. “See you.”
“Bye,” murmured Kelly, obsessing about the moonlight. Could that be another coincidence? Full moon and four o’clock. Two things that were pretty ordinary, but made extraordinary by the presence of a magical mirror? Back in the office, she hunted inside her handbag for a pocket diary. Thumbing through it, she identified the date of the next full moon. Twenty-eight days’ time.
It was worth a try. Why not?
She also had twenty-eight days to figure out what she would do for that one hour in the house. She needed a cover, something to protect her if caught. A maid’s uniform? What would a maid-of-all-work wear?
Heading home, she stared out of the window of the train. Was it possible to hanker after somebody she’d never met? Henry Yarlswood, an enigmatic gentleman with an interest in spanking women. No, more than an interest, practically an obsession.
What else could she find out about spanking in the next month?
She’d plenty to research and one month to do it.