Rose Hale thought she had never seen a more elegant, handsome man than Mr. Julius Summersby. At her guardian’s table, in the manor house, she had even seen several lords, and none of them seemed more the picture of a gentleman than Mr. Summersby did. He spoke in a low, gentle voice of music and literature. He offered a young lady his arm to walk in to dinner with an easy, unembarrassed expression, and as he handed her to her seat at table he pressed her hand very gently—not indiscreetly, but enough to tell her that he had enjoyed the brief, chaste contact of their limbs.
After dinner, as he walked Rose back to the little house where she and her fellow ward Isabelle Dennis lived under the care of Mrs. Tuchet, the matron Squire Merton had found for them when Rose turned eighteen, Mr. Summersby pressed the small hand he held within the crook of his beautifully attired arm rather more ardently, but Rose hardly minded. He had shown himself so perfect in his manners, according to every standard taught her and Isabelle, Rose’s elder by two years, that the pressure of his fingers felt as if it could not be in any way amiss. Rose rather felt that perhaps her ideas concerning what a gentleman might in all propriety do with a young lady’s hand required updating.
“Good night, dear Miss Hale,” Mr. Summersby said. “I have had the greatest pleasure in dining with you again.”
Mrs. Tuchet had come out into the hall to welcome the girls home, and Mr. Summersby addressed her, now. “May I call upon Miss Rose tomorrow, Mrs. Tuchet?” he asked.
The matron smiled. Mrs. Tuchet could be very gentle and even permissive with Rose and Isabelle, but of course Rose knew well she could also be quite severe when a lesson must be given.
“You may, Mr. Summersby. I know the squire is particularly hoping you might keep Rose company and brighten her days while you stay at the manor this week.”
“And I, Mrs. Tuchet, upon Miss Isabelle?” said Captain Merton, the squire’s nephew by a third brother, now dead like the girls’ first guardian, with a smile. He had accompanied Isabelle home, as he often did. Rose had wondered this evening whether the captain might finally be preparing to speak to his uncle about courting Isabelle in earnest, for she had noticed her friend blushing at one or two things the officer had spoken in her ear.
“Of course, Captain. You know you are always welcome at the cottage.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Tuchet.” Captain Merton smiled, and turned to Mr. Summersby. “Shall we walk to the Sacred Grove with them tomorrow, Summersby, as my uncle suggested? It is a long ramble, but we haven’t any shooting on, and the girls need their airing, do they not?”
Isabelle blushed at that, and Rose did a little, too, at the thought of being nearly alone for so long with Mr. Summersby—the longest she would ever have been in a single gentleman’s company if one excepted Captain Merton when he was young and William Beam from the village, their childhood playmate.
Mr. Summersby turned to Mrs. Tuchet. “Is that alright, Mrs. Tuchet? I do think the squire himself suggested it to us after dinner.”
After dinner. Ah, the world of men, with their port and cigars in the dining room once the cloth was drawn. The squire had suggested that Rose and Isabelle have an airing, it seemed, and so the girls would.
The squire’s wards had come to live in the cottage at Darlington when their guardians, the squire’s youngest brother and sister-in-law, had died in a shipwreck on their way to India, where Mr. Merton had hoped to make a fortune with which he could help the girls he had adopted from two unfortunate families in the coal-mining districts. Tenderhearted but without a head for business, Mr. Merton had squandered what he had before orphaning Rose and Isabelle a second time.
The squire, less tenderhearted but not without compassion especially for the plight of two young women, then only twelve and fourteen, had brought Rose and Isabelle to live at Darlington, in a small but very comfortable cottage only a half-mile from the manor house itself. Before Rose turned eighteen they had had a governess named Mrs. Renfrew, but soon after Rose reached her majority Mrs. Renfrew had gone away and the very different Mrs. Tuchet had arrived.
Rose didn’t dislike Mrs. Tuchet, for she could tell—and she knew Isabelle agreed in the impression—that the woman had the girls’ best interests very close to her heart. Mrs. Tuchet’s idea of what those best interests were, however, often seemed to diverge from what Rose herself might have supposed and, especially, have desired.
Now, however, it seemed everyone agreed that the ramble to the Sacred Grove represented Rose’s and Isabelle’s best interests, and Mrs. Tuchet confirmed as much. “Of course, Mr. Summersby. Why not call around eleven o’clock, and I’ll put some cold chicken and a bottle of cordial in a basket to take along with you for a picnic?”
“Oh, Mrs. Tuchet,” Rose said, “truly? Thank you ever so much!”
Isabelle seemed more reserved in her enthusiasm, merely nodding with hardly a smile upon her lips. Rose knew that the expression simply represented her ordinary approach to such things. Rose’s fellow ward and best friend never wished to commit her feelings when a chance existed that she might be wounded later for having done so. Rose, perhaps in reaction to Isabelle’s ways or perhaps out of the natural ebullience of her character, felt in herself the opposite tendency: looking at Mr. Summersby as he finally took his leave, she had no trouble in allowing herself to hope the walk to the Sacred Grove and the picnic of cold chicken and cordial there might bring the sort of wonderful things into her life of which she had always dreamt.
Of course, Mrs. Tuchet’s manner changed when she had shut the door behind them, and she became the much less amiable sort of matron whom the friends saw when alone with her in the cottage.
“Isabelle,” she said, “you should have been more gracious to the captain. You know your guardian wishes it. Fetch the strap, if you please.”
“Oh, but…” Isabelle’s eyes filled with tears, and Rose couldn’t help weeping in sympathy herself.
“Please, Mrs. Tuchet,” Rose said. “Please don’t whip Isabelle!”
“Stop your sniveling, child,” the matron replied severely, “or your bottom will be next to hers over the foot of the bed. You know the squire wishes you girls to find good situations, and his indulgence in allowing Captain Merton to court you, Isabelle, speaks of his great kindness. You won’t repay that indulgence with your cold, missish ways if I can help it, any more than you will play the coquette.”
Isabelle’s chin quivered, and she lowered her eyes to Mrs. Tuchet’s ample skirts. Rose couldn’t help thinking how pretty her friend looked despite her misery: both girls had fair complexions, with blue eyes and flaxen hair, but Isabelle stood two inches taller and had the more generous figure, while Rose thought of herself as a slip of a thing and hoped Julius Summersby didn’t mind.
“Come, child. You must learn your lesson. Rose, you will help her undress, and you may hold her hands while I whip her.”
Isabelle knew from experience, just as Rose did, that when Mrs. Tuchet had decided that discipline must be administered, she would not waver. She knew, too, that any attempt to plead that she might be allowed to keep her shift on during her punishment would merely earn her more lashes from the strap she must now fetch from its place on the girls’ bedpost.
Rose hated how she and Isabelle had to get the terrible length of stout leather from its hook when the time came for correction. Mrs. Tuchet could so easily have gotten it herself! But of course now Isabelle had to walk on shuffling feet all the way into the girls’ room where they shared a lovely, soft bed that became woeful on such occasions when one or both of them must bend over its foot upon their elbows and raise their bare bottoms for a whipping.
And of course Isabelle had to kiss the strap before she gave it to Mrs. Tuchet.
“You girls,” the matron said as Rose unlaced her weeping friend’s stays, “must learn to respect the squire’s judgment, and mine.” She tapped the strap against her palm a little impatiently. “That is why you must be punished with your clothing entirely removed. A young woman, who may so easily depart from the path of virtue, must put her nubile body entirely in the hands of those to whom providence has committed her care. The squire has charged me with the duty of ensuring that you girls become the sort of bride men like Captain Merton and Mr. Summersby find pleasing, and I will not shirk that duty even if it means I must send you to bed with a whipped bottom. Off with that shift, and with your drawers, Isabelle, at once.”
Isabelle had hesitated, looking at Mrs. Tuchet with a plea in her eyes that Rose wouldn’t have made, knowing too well how little it would avail her. With a crease in her brow, now, though, Isabelle reached under the hem of her chemise to untie the ribbon that held her drawers up, so that they fell to the floor, then loosed the drawstring at her neck. She pulled the shift over her head to reveal all her twenty-year-old charms: full breasts with pink nipples the size of a sixpence, hips with a pronounced, alluring curve, and a trim bottom that had nevertheless grown into the roundness of womanhood.
Rose blushed to see her friend naked, but she couldn’t help envying Isabelle’s charms as well. Captain Merton, should he gain Isabelle as his bride, would possess a young lady of exquisite form both in and out of the fine frocks in which the squire had dressed the friends since they had come of age, ordering them specially from London. Rose could only hope that although she didn’t fill out her own frock the way Isabelle did, Mr. Julius Summersby might perhaps prefer a Diana to a Venus.
Could it be true that Mr. Summersby would call for her tomorrow, for a walk to the Sacred Grove and a picnic lunch there, with Mrs. Tuchet’s cordial, of which she and Isabelle had only ever been allowed tiny sips, as their beverage?
Poor Isabelle, though, must it seemed pay a terrible price for the pleasure of Captain Merton’s company on the walk. With tears still in her own eyes, Rose climbed onto the bed, undressed with Isabelle’s tearful help to her own shift, at Mrs. Tuchet’s command.
Isabelle stood at the foot of the bed, and Rose felt her face get hot as she tried and failed to look away from the little nest of golden curls between her friend’s thighs. Mrs. Tuchet, she knew, would almost certainly give one of her little lectures about a girl’s charms now.
“Bend over, Isabelle,” said the matron with the iron gray hair. “Knees apart and bottom raised. You know how to place yourself for the strap by now.”
She did indeed, just as Rose did. Since Rose had come of age and Mrs. Tuchet had taken up her residence with the squire’s wards, both girls had felt the woman’s correction upon their bare bottoms with a good deal of frequency, usually for minor faults of deportment like not curtsying properly. No matter the smallness of the infraction, Rose and Isabelle were always whipped in a state of shamefully complete undress, and they were nearly always lectured about their duty with regard to their lovely young bodies.
“Look at that,” Mrs. Tuchet said now, in a scolding tone. “Isabelle Dennis’s private part is on display, because she forgot her duty to her protector.”
Isabelle clasped Rose’s hands tightly. She had buried her face in the bedclothes, but Rose knew from her own reaction to the matron’s words that her friend’s face must be very hot.
“That pouting slit, I have told you many times, girls, like your mouths and the little hole between your bottom-cheeks, belongs to the squire. While I whip you, Isabelle, I want you to remember what you owe him for his kindness. When a man like Captain Merton, approved by his uncle, pays you his attentions, you will show him the respect he deserves.”
Then Mrs. Tuchet laid her left hand atop Isabelle’s waist to hold her steady, and began to whip the poor girl fast and hard, over and over, as she cried out in shame and agony.
Rose bit her lip, trying hard to contain her own sobs to see her friend punished this way. For the first time she saw in Mrs. Tuchet’s strange and troubling words about her and Isabelle’s private parts, whose like she had indeed heard regularly since the matron’s arrival, a connection to the way she and Isabelle were punished.
Now, as the whipping went on and Isabelle’s cries grew more frantic and her struggles so great that Rose had to hold her friend’s hands very tightly so that Isabelle wouldn’t earn more punishment by trying to ward off the strap, to her distress she thought of the way she felt after Mrs. Tuchet had whipped her. Something about the knowledge that Mr. Summersby would call for her at eleven o’clock the next morning, and about the memory of his handsome face and his soft voice, came together with Isabelle’s whipping and the memory of Rose’s own whippings. Down there, where Mrs. Tuchet said the squire somehow owned her, she grew strangely warm, as she did in bed when her own bare backside had just been punished.