Anna sat at the kitchen table waiting for his return. There was no doubt it was a serious matter and he would have to punish her. She had promised him that he had been given the full truth… all of it. There were no more secrets, no more lies, and nothing more to worry about from her old life. She had lied. There was just one more and now that one had surfaced. How Granville Booth had discovered her whereabouts was a mystery. Certainly, none of her friends in high places would have told him. The man was almost universally detested even in distant Washington where his money bought him influence but not admiration.
That Judge Vicars had picked up that particular scent was great good fortune. At least they could be on their guard, but her husband had to know. This submission to him was hard for her. That a wife owed a duty of obedience and submission to her husband she knew, and accepted, but she found it so difficult. After being independent, self-sufficient, and self-reliant, this wifely submission was a daily struggle for her. Also hard to accept was his right to discipline her. Being over his lap to have her bottom spanked was not only hideously embarrassing but also painful. Hugh had a hard hand and for a woman who had never been spanked in her life before, it was a big adjustment. Worse than being spanked was a visit to the ‘stables’ and that was certainly what would happen now.
The name ‘stables’ was merely shorthand. It was a separate building to the main house with room for the carriage, cart, and buggy; stabling for horses; a small workshop; and a roomy place for storing wood. It was also the place for the more serious chastisements of a wife in error. Spankings took place in the bedroom. The stables gave privacy from others in the main house but also allowed her to cry out without being heard.
She knew he wasn’t being cruel to her. The spankings were normal for a ‘naughty’ wife. It was just that she hadn’t been raised to be a wife of any sort. Even her previous trip out to the stables was not cruelty. It had been a very moderate and reasonable punishment given she was disobedient. Her sister had told her firmly that she was lucky it hadn’t been a lot worse. Most husbands would have really thrashed her.
Lately she had been doing better, had begun to understand how a wife must behave, had even begun to enjoy her new life. She blushed for she enjoyed the intimate side of marriage a great deal. Now this! She wished she knew how that foul Granville Booth had discovered her. The man was surprisingly relentless in his quest for vengeance. With no recourse to the courts he wanted personal revenge. He’d probably be pleased if he knew about the thrashing she was to get.
She heard her husband’s footsteps outside and then the door opened and in he walked. He looked very displeased. “You promised me that there were no more secrets, no more lies to uncover. Why is this man pursuing you?”
She sighed. “Granville Booth is an odious man. He is ruthless in his pursuit of wealth. He bribes to get state and government contracts. He underpays and cheats his workers and his company stores sell them goods of very poor quality at inflated prices. His servants are treated abominably. He came to my attention when he cheated a widow with five children out of almost all her money. She trusted him to invest for her after her husband died and she lost most of it. When I met her, she was struggling to make ends meet.
“I set up as being an orphan, with money, seeking help with a project that required a joint investment. He intended to cheat me, and not only take my money, but make a killing on what was actually a phony investment. Instead I cheated him and restored to the widow her stolen funds. The remainder went to an orphanage. On that occasion I kept none for myself. He was, and is still, very rich, but being cheated by a woman really rankles.”
He sighed. “I know the type of man and I don’t judge your actions. What I do judge is that you withheld that information. You gave me your word there was nothing more. Why?”
“Because he was not pursuing me through the courts. I honestly did not believe he would pursue me in this way. I knew if I went anywhere near him he would seek revenge, but track me down like this? That never occurred to me.”
“Nevertheless, you should have told me. I wanted full disclosure and you swore that you had given it. I am now obliged to punish you. When Rose is in bed, and before it gets completely dark, you will go and wait for me in the stables.”
The last bit of hope that he wouldn’t punish her disappeared. She lowered her eyes and whispered, “Yes, Sir.”
Rose loved her new bedtime routines and enjoyed the stories that her new mama told her or read. There were no bedtime traumas and Rose was swiftly asleep. Too swiftly, Anna thought, for now I must walk out to the stables. Her husband had a wicked piece of harness leather hanging in the stables. It had occasionally been used on his first wife and now was reserved for her. Its bite was fierce and the welts remained for several days, a constant reminder of her error. She would submit to it for she had withheld the information, and could not argue that she deserved the punishment, but it would not be easy.
She took with her a lantern because the light was going and it would be darker in the stables. The two men who worked there had returned to their homes. The boy, Peter, who helped them had once slept in the stables but she had insisted he be given better accommodation. All was quiet when she entered and hung up the lantern. She knew what she must do. A roughly made frame had an old saddle secured to it and that was where she began to prepare. She removed her dress and hung it on a hook, her petticoats followed. She wore no corsets and had persuaded her sister to do the same. She was left in just her camisole and under-drawers and went and stood against the wall. She put her hands on her head as he had taught her she must do. Her half-dressed state no longer embarrassed her as in their bedroom he required her to be naked.
She heard him enter. He was always so stern with her but at least he never allowed anger to dictate his actions. She had encountered men who seemed in a perpetual state of anger and got mad with their wives in the blink of an eye. Their wives became timid and frightened to say anything for fear of angering their husbands. That did not apply to her. She heard him walk to where a hook held the strap of harness leather that he used. She began to tremble slightly. She hated being scared like this, but the harness leather hurt, although she knew its smart was temporary, and was merely punishment, not injury.
“Good. Well done, wife. I shall be giving you a good whipping but it is one you deserve. No secrets from now on. None at all. Understood?”
“Now make yourself ready and over that saddle.”
She lowered her hands and with a downcast head walked to the saddle. Facing the saddle, she undid the ties that held up her drawers, which slid gracefully down her legs to puddle around her ankles. Her heart thumping, she leant forward and bent across the saddle, reaching down to hold on to the rail below. She knew it was ridiculous to feel so nervous, for almost everyone experienced a good spanking or whipping in their lives and she deserved this.
The stables held their own scent: a strange combination of horse, of straw and hay and grease contrasting the richness of leather. The stables were also warm from the animals. It should be a place of comfort but not now. Not with her bent over the saddle awaiting the old harness leather to set her bottom on fire.
The first lick cracked down on the softness of her bottom. Not powerful in itself but a band of sheer heat burned across her bottom and her whole body jumped as she gasped at it. Her fearful ears caught the faint whistle of the strap and she tensed just before the next lick caught her dead center of her bottom. It burned deeply, her cry of pain filling the building. He was good at spanking with that strap. The leather that burned into her bottom was a good teacher. Never again would she keep secrets.
Crack! Another lick and another line of fire and now he was into his rhythm. Each crack of the strap on her bottom caused her to cry out as the burning fire grew ever hotter and her whole bottom felt engulfed in it. Staying in position over the saddle became increasingly difficult but she knew it was her duty to accept his punishment. Not only her duty for she knew that she deserved this. She had been far too secretive and independent for her own good. He was teaching her better ways to behave. She began to stamp her feet as the blows made her squirm across the saddle. He began to work the licks first down the soft curves of her bottom then back up again. Her tears flowed fast and free keeping pace with her shrill cries as the tally of licks mounted.
She had no idea how many he had given her but when one caught her at the junction of thigh and bottom, she shrieked and stood.
“No, you must remain obedient even when it hurts. This is punishment and you must take it. I intended twenty licks and you only had a few more to go but now I shall add an extra ten.”
“Yes, Sir. I’m sorry.”
She bent back over the saddle. The stretching of her skin as she did so made her welts burn harder, and she squeaked softly. It was so hard to be submissive to the strap… so hard to be submissive at all, but iven she had withheld information, entirely just. Although the pain was hard to bear, Hugh was a good husband and he cared about her… no brute, but caring enough to discipline her and in truth she could not argue with his judgement. Keeping position while he gave her the three more needed to bring the count to twenty was hard. Her bottom was now burning fiercely and each lick piled fire upon fire. Underlying the fire was a throbbing caused by the overlapping welts. She squealed shrilly and squirmed as each one cracked down on her already fiery bottom.
“I am going to give you ten more. You will ask me for each one.”
“Ask you? Do you mean like ‘please give me another lick with the strap’? Like that?”
“Yes, exactly like that.”
“Please give me another lick, Sir.”
The crack of the strap across her already well punished bottom was like fire. She squealed loudly and writhed over the saddle in a way that would have been lewd in any other circumstance. She panted loudly until the fire died down enough to ask for the next. “Next one please, Sir.”
The cracking sound of the strap was absorbed by the stable but the fiery pain was hard to absorb. She shrieked this time. It seemed harder than anything that went before but perhaps it was just that her bottom was already so sore. It was a mental struggle to ask for the third lick of the strap and she knew she would never forget this punishment. She vowed there would be no more secrets, no more lies, her husband would be told everything.
Her face was awash with tears, her voice croaky and her body, so it seemed, never still, as she wriggled and squirmed across the saddle. She lost all track of numbers. As the fire of the last lick calmed down a fraction she would croak out, “Next one please, Sir.” But then came the moment when a seemingly far distant voice said, “You only have one more to go. Ask for it, and your punishment is over.”
Her bottom was burning so fiercely from the strap that it took a real effort of mind to work out what he meant. “Please, Sir. Give me the last one.” The last one did not spare her. If anything, the strap cracked down harder than all of them, and laid itself diagonally across her bottom, reigniting all the welts that had gone before. She squealed loudly and writhed over the saddle without getting up. Finally, she felt him assisting her to rise. The movement was not welcomed by her bottom but she stood.
“I’m very sorry,” she sobbed, “that I didn’t tell you about Granville Booth. I promise I shall never keep secrets again. It’s just that keeping my own counsel was how I was raised. It is hard for me to share.”
“I understand, but you are a now a wife, with a duty to your husband, and that was too dangerous a secret to keep. Now we must keep the doors locked and you must carry that revolver of yours. Go nowhere on your own for the time being.”
Suddenly she longed for him to hold her. To comfort her and tell her that although he had punished her, he cared. It seemed for a moment he was going to but then he withdrew from her. It wasn’t that he was cold; there was something else that held him back. She just wished she knew what it was because she had come to love him.
Hugh Estham came out of the barber’s shop feeling better for his shave. He loathed being unshaven but not as much as he loathed being away from home on business. He worried constantly about his Rose when away but ‘needs must when the devil drives’ as he told himself. He glanced across the street and went rigid with shock. “What the dickens is she doing here?” He spoke out loud and was about to run across for, on the other side, an attractive young woman, fashionably dressed, was walking along holding onto the arm of an older man. A businessman of some sort by the look of him. He was clearly enchanted with her and they were talking amiably.
He was about to dash across and deal with the matter when it struck him he was not the right person. “No,” he muttered. “Edwin needs to deal with this.” Keeping an eye on where the couple were going, he rushed down to the hotel where they were staying, bumping into Edwin as he came out.
“Alice,” he gabbled breathlessly, “over there going into the bank on a man’s arm. She’s wearing a beautiful dress. What’s she doing here?”
“Shouldn’t be. Damn it, that woman is just too willful for her own good. I’m going to tan her hide for her.”
Edwin dashed across the road and entered the First Bank of Summerston. Alice and the man weren’t there but on the far side of the bank was a door with a plate reading ‘Mr. Prentice Jenkins.’ Edwin didn’t hesitate. Ignoring protests from the tellers, he threw open the door and saw his Alice sitting on one side of a desk, while a portly, well-dressed man sat on the other.
For Miss Emma Andrews, as she was known, the outraged man who burst through the door shouting at her was a shock and surprise. She had no idea who he was but he grabbed her by one arm and hauled her roughly to her feet.
“You, wife, are getting the hiding of your life. By the time I’ve finished you’ll be lucky if you can sit down after a week. You should be at home, not here. And where did you get that dress? I’ve warned you about your spending. That’s another session with the strap all by…”
His voice trailed away because something hard was poking into his stomach. He looked down and saw that it was a small revolver. He looked back up into the face of his Alice and saw in her eyes not the wariness and guilt of a naughty wife, but anger and determination.
“Stay very still,” hissed a soft voice. “The slightest movement and the trigger is pulled. I really don’t know what a bullet will do to your gut but no good I would imagine.”
Edwin went still but his hurt voice protested, “Alice!”
“Now, very slowly release my arm, and very slowly walk backwards to that chair over there. You make the smallest move to get my gun and I pull the trigger.”
Edwin obeyed but he did so protesting, “Alice! What’s gotten into you? Why are you behaving like this?”
When he was sitting on the chair Miss Andrews looked at him with contempt and replied quietly, “I’m not Alice, fool.” Then to the anxious teller standing by the open door she gave a big smile. “Mr. Masters, would you please run and fetch the sheriff?”
The young man, anxious to be of service, turned on his heel. Miss Andrews glanced around at Mr. Prentice Jenkins, who looked a very nasty color indeed. “Prentice, pour yourself a drink. You don’t look well.”
The sheriff must have already been summoned by someone because he appeared at that point. A tall, fatherly looking man, he smiled at Miss Andrews and then looked sternly at Edwin. “Well, what are you up to? Trying to rob the bank?”
“No! No, of course not. Damn it, that’s my wife. She shouldn’t be here; she should be at home.”
The sheriff looked at him in disbelief. “Son, either you’ve had too much whiskey or too much sun. This here is Miss Andrews, a valued member of this community.”
The doorway to the office was filling up with tellers and customers anxious to watch the drama. Through them all shouldered Mr. Hugh Estham. “Sheriff, I can confirm that lady is Mrs. Edwin Croston, wife to this man, who is my business partner. Her Christian name is Alice. She wears his ring. I was best man at the wedding.”
The sheriff glanced at Miss Andrews apologetically. She smiled back at him. “Sheriff, I would not remove my glove for either of these lunatics but for you, anything.” She delicately removed the glove on her left hand to reveal a hand free of any rings at all.
“Alice! You have no business removing my ring. That’s a Godless thing to do. I don’t know what’s going on here, Sheriff, but she can’t alter the scar that is on the back of her other hand. Get her to take off that glove.”
Since everyone was looking at Edwin Croston, no one noticed the small start of surprise on Miss Andrews’ face, nor the look of intense interest. Both looks were very quickly suppressed and a smiling Miss Andrews removed the glove on her other hand to reveal a hand with no scar at all.
The sheriff hesitated no longer. He drew his gun. “You two can both cool off and sober up in the cells. I’ll keep you today and overnight. In the morning you leave town and don’t come back. March!”
Later, her business concluded, Miss Andrews went across to the sheriff’s office and worked her usual charm to establish who it was that had interrupted her meeting. Mr. Edwin Croston and Mr. Hugh Estham of Ellerbrook Town, a small but prosperous place, about two days riding from Summerston. The sheriff had an avuncular attitude to the delightful Miss Andrews. “Truth is, Miss Andrews, I have no good reason to keep the Estham guy; as far as I can tell he ain’t done no wrong. So, I’m letting him go with a stern warning. The other one I’ll send packing in the morning.”
Miss Emma Andrews returned to the suite she maintained at the hotel. Her mind was whirling. The talk of a scar on the back of this Alice’s hand had disturbed her. Throughout her life she had been subject to odd feelings as if she had been injured without anything actually happening to her. That fact, combined with the two men being absolutely certain that she was Alice Croston, scared her. She must find out what lay at the heart of this. She could of course ride to Ellerbrook Town. She was an excellent rider and a good shot, but even so, a lonely journey of two days was not to be undertaken lightly by a woman. There were many dangers along the way, not all of them from wild animals.
She was up early the next morning and waited patiently in the livery stable for Mr. Edwin Croston to appear. For prudence she wore riding breeches and equally fashionable riding boots. Fashionable but not approved by the good folk of Summerston; a lady should wear a dress. Behind her back she concealed the small Colt New Line she’d used in the bank: an insurance against his temper. The man did not look in the best of moods after a night in the cell and when he saw who stood in the shadows of the stables, his mood worsened.
“You!” he snarled. “You’ve caused me to lose a whole day and a night to the cells.”
“You did that all by yourself, I’m afraid. Now tell me about that injury to your wife’s hand. Did you do that? You have a nasty temper.”
Edwin grew red in the face. “I would never injure my Alice or any woman. I love Alice dearly and would never hurt her. I discipline her sometimes, because she was somewhat spoiled growing up, but a sore rear end is all. Never injury.”
“Well, how did it happen then?”
“Mind your own business, woman. You’re one who needs a good spanking in my view. I pity the man who marries you. He’ll have his work cut out keeping you in order. For two cents I’d put you over my knee this second.”
“Perhaps the injury occurred at Christmas three years ago.”
His face told that she was right and it infuriated him. “You do know something! Right, that does it. I’m going to spank your rear end until you tell me what you know.”
The small revolver appeared in a flash but Miss Andrews realized that the man charging at her was so angry he wasn’t seeing it. She had no wish to shoot him, or make his Alice a widow, so there was only one thing to be done and she did it. Her leg, clad in breeches and unencumbered by a dress, shot out and her booted foot connected powerfully with Edwin Croston’s crotch. The poor man screamed, dropped to the floor, and curled up. Sighing, Miss Andrews murmured, “I’m sorry,” and quickly left.
She was very disturbed by the whole affair. Really, she needed to get into this Ellerbrook Town and find out for herself about Alice Croston, but that wasn’t possible. For one thing, if he saw her, Edwin Croston might well put her over his knee and spank her. He was entitled to spank his wife; husbands could and did do that, but she wasn’t having him spank her. For another, if she looked that much like his Alice, she would immediately attract attention. So, a spy was needed. She smiled. She knew just the man for that job.
Before making her way to the cabin of Silas Jones she bought a bottle of whiskey. Silas was thought to be simple-minded. She knew he was far from it. Odd, certainly and with an inability to look at anyone directly. His eyes slid over people and away but missed nothing. His ears heard every detail. His memory was amazing. Most important, people rarely noticed him.
When Silas came back to his cabin, he appeared not to notice her. Nevertheless, he stood outside the cabin and waited. “I need a job done, Silas. First you must get a bath, a shave, and a haircut. I will pay. Then you must get some new clothes from the store. Again, I’ll pay for those and you may keep them. Use that old nag of yours and ride to Ellerbrook Town. I want to know all about three people: Mr. Edwin Croston, his wife Alice, and a Mr. Hugh Estham. I don’t want anyone knowing that I’m interested. Get that information, bring it back, and I’ll pay all your expenses plus twenty dollars on top.”
For a fraction of second Silas’s eyes almost looked fully at her. The sum was generous and told him the job was important. He nodded his acceptance, took the whiskey, but tucked it away in his cabin before making his way to the bath house.
Mr. Edwin Croston left Summerston a sore and angry man. He had accepted that the woman in the bank was not his Alice although looking extraordinarily like her. However, he wasn’t going to forget her contempt for him or the kick to his privates. If he could get his hands on her, he’d bare her bottom and whip her thoroughly with a switch. When his mind told him that he had no right, and that to bare her when she was not his wife was wrong, he shouted out loud to the trees, “I don’t care. Propriety be damned. The woman needs a thrashing.” Gradually he calmed down. Alice was always chiding him for his quick temper and she was right. ‘Hotheaded,’ his mother called him and she was right too. Not that Miss Andrews didn’t need a good spanking, she did, but it was not his job to do it.
His temper in check, he began to think about the extraordinary likeness and the fact she clearly knew something about that scar on Alice’s hand. The injury had happened before they were married. She had been helping the housekeeper prepare a Christmas feast: a moment’s carelessness and the housekeeper’s knife had sliced the back of her hand. How could anyone outside the town know about that? He needed to visit Alice’s father. Alice was an only child and her father, the Reverend Jerome Williams always said he had lost his wife when Alice was a mere baby. Perhaps Miss Andrews was a cousin.
He made good time and rode into Ellerbrook Town with relief. Folks all around called greetings to him making him glad to be home. He didn’t go straight to his own house on the far side of town but to the house of his father-in-law beside the church. Jerome Williams welcomed his son-in-law.
“I saw Hugh had returned but there were problems with your steam engine so he’s been busy. Did your business go well?”
“Very well and profitable but something very odd happened in Summerston. We only stopped off for the night before the ride back here.” As he related the events, he watched his father-in-law’s face turn first pale and then very white indeed.
When he had finished, the older man waved a hand at a whiskey bottle and muttered, “Pour us both a stiff drink.” When the alcohol had restored a little color to his cheeks, he began to explain. “I have deceived everyone about my wife. It was quite deliberate, because I was ashamed. Louisa was a most interesting, clever, and beautiful woman but I was very naïve. However, we fell in love, married and she gave birth a year later to… twin girls.”
“Yes indeed. Anna and Alice. Beautiful babies and we were both very happy. One day, about six months later, she disappeared, taking Anna with her. I spent the best part of a year trying to find her but without success. Finally, for Alice’s sake, I came here as the minister and felt it best to say I had lost my wife. I knew that no one would probe any further but simply assume she had died. I’ve never told Alice about her twin sister although at times I felt she sensed her.
“Now, say nothing to Alice. I will tell all on Sunday after church. Then I will set out next Monday and find this Miss Andrews. Hopefully I can persuade her of the truth and maybe bring her back to meet with Alice, her twin. I wonder whether Louisa is there too. Clearly, she has not told Anna that she is a twin.”
The following Sunday Jerome Williams was as good as his word. When the church had emptied, a small group consisting of himself, his daughter Alice, his son-in-law Edwin, and Edwin’s business partner Hugh Estham gathered near the front. Jerome Williams explained all but with many apologies. For Alice it explained much that she had wondered about in herself. For Hugh it was a relief that they weren’t going mad. Miss Andrews had to be the missing Anna. No wonder she had reacted as she did. The poor woman would have been puzzled beyond bearing.
None of them noticed the quiet figure sitting in a pew apparently praying. Silas Jones was all but invisible to their eyes an ability he had used to his advantage many times. He had already established who Edwin Croston and Hugh Estham were. They were partners in owning Ellerbrook Saw Mill, a large, successful, and prosperous producer of sawn timber. His eyes gleamed at the thought of the news he would take back to Miss Andrews. The twenty dollars, bottle of whiskey, and new clothes had been easy enough to earn. When the church was completely empty, Silas Jones set off to report to Miss Andrews.
The Reverend Jerome Williams left for Summerston on the Monday using a single horse and buggy. He’d have to camp out overnight, something he was unused to doing, but the problems of doing that paled against finding his long-lost daughter. Was Louisa with her? If not, how would he convince Anna of the truth? How would he persuade her to come and meet Alice? The closer he got to Summerston the more pessimistic he became.
He stopped at the bath house and chose the most expensive option: a bath in hot clean water with fresh towel and soap. He added a shave to his bill and then checked into the hotel. When he had signed the register, he asked, “Do you know where I might find a Miss Andrews?”
“Yes, sir, she resides here at this hotel. If you put your bag in your room and come back down to our lounge, Miss Andrews will join you. She told us to expect you.”
“Yes, sir, she said any time from Wednesday morning onward.”
The Reverend Jerome Williams was bewildered. How could she possibly have been expecting him? Nevertheless, he put his bag in his room and made his way to the lounge. He knew her instantly for she was the spitting image of his Alice. As he approached her, she smiled. “Ah, you must be the Reverend Williams.”
“How did you know I was coming?”
“You really don’t think I was going to let an incident like the one I experienced pass by, without sending an agent to find out who this Alice was, and why those two men mistook me for her. So, Alice is my twin sister.”
“Yes, and I am your father. I have photographs…”
“Indeed, and I would like to see them but I believe you. My mother told me you were dead and she never once mentioned Alice.”
“Dear Louisa, is she…”
“Passed on two years ago. Caught a fever and never recovered. Traveling to Ellerbrook Town will be awkward but I suppose I must do it to meet my sister. There’s talk the railroad will soon extend to Ellerbrook but it’s not there yet.”
“My dear, I had doubted I could even convince you but…”
“We will travel. I have my own buggy. I shall travel in suitable clothes but must have something with me to change for meeting my sister.”
The Rev. Jerome Williams was almost frightened by the calm, capable young woman discussing their travel arrangements. When he met her the next morning, he found her dressed as a man and carrying a revolver strapped to her waist. He was unnerved by the sight.
“Do you have a weapon?” she asked.
She handed him a shotgun. “Take this. Just point and pull the trigger. Can’t really miss. Any dangers, follow my lead.”
“Where did you…”
“Not all of my business is in civilized places, you know. A woman must be able to take care of herself.”
Her father desperately wanted to ask about her business but was fearful of what he might hear so he followed her lead for the whole journey and found she was much better at camping out than he was.