“I wholly agree,” Dr. Rupert Dobson replied, raising his snifter in a toast. The trip from London had been long and tiring. The delicious dinner that had greeted him, along with the drink and now the roaring hearth in front of him, were all conspiring to make him quite sleepy. But the hour was not too late and he first wanted to hear why Douglas had written for his assistance. “It is a pleasure to get away from the city. Made all the better by the pleasure of your company. But now that we’ve finished with our victuals and, might I add, what a fine repast it was…”
“Mrs. Hedgepot is an excellent cook,” Douglas said, patting his round stomach.
“Indeed,” Rupert agreed, smiling. “But now that we’ve finished might I inquire as to why you summoned me? Your letter was a little… enigmatic. I was worried that perhaps something had happened.”
Douglas’s expression darkened into a scowl. He let out a great gust of air and shook his jowls. His face turned a little red. “Something has happened,” he said with great gravitas.
“Oh?” Rupert asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Ms. Emma Thorncliffe has come of age,” Douglas explained.
“Oh,” Rupert replied, somewhat puzzled by why this would be a problem. A moment’s thought brought with it an idea. He hesitated, not wanting to make assumptions. Still, it wouldn’t do to pretend that he was in any way interested in a romantic arrangement of any kind. Not at this time in his life with his career just beginning. “Douglas,” he began, then paused to choose his words carefully. “I am afraid that at this juncture I’m not currently seeking a wife,” he said, hoping he hadn’t offended even before the conversation had begun.
“What?” Douglas barked, looking perplexed. He shook his head and snorted a great harrumph. “No, no,” he said. He waved his hands in the air. “No, no, no, no. You misunderstood me. Emma Thorncliffe has come of age and with that the temper she’d been plagued by as a child has turned her into a terror.”
Rupert’s eyes widened. “A terror?” he asked.
“An unholy terror,” Douglas growled.
“Oh, my,” Rupert said. “That is of grave concern.”
“This was to be her second season, Rupert,” Douglas went on. He leaned forward, struggling to fit his belly between his lap and his chest. “But I’ll be damned if I’m sending her to the city in this state. She’s utterly un-marriable. She has an absolutely preposterous idea of how a lady should behave. Speaks to me like I’m an infant. An infant? No. A dog, perhaps.” He scratched his chin. “Though I would never behave that way toward a dog, come to think of it. But never mind. I’ve tried to be stern with her. I’ve said some very harsh things. Things I never thought I’d say to a young woman.” He paused and shook his head at the recollection. “You know how she reacted?”
“I don’t,” Rupert admitted.
“She laughed at me,” Douglas confessed. “Laughed with such sarcastic mirth that it took all of my will power not to slap her across the face.”
“Did you slap her elsewhere?” Rupert inquired.
Douglas’s eyes widened. His face turned an even deeper shade of red. “I most certainly did not! How dare you…”
Rupert held up a hand, silencing his friend. “I did not mean to offend,” he said solemnly. “I am merely engaging in scientific inquiry, Douglas. That you did not raise a hand against her in anger is commendable. Might I ask another question, begging your patience.”
Douglas soothed his ruffled feathers with a shrug, a grunt, and a nod. “Go on then,” he said.
“As you raised the girl did you implement a regimen of corporal punishment for her misbehavior?”
Douglas, still looking perturbed by the previous exchange, let out a huff of air. “I did not,” he said.
Rupert gave a nod. “Please, continue.”
“I don’t know if there is much more to say,” Douglas said. “I am at my wits’ end and see no end of this in sight. At this point it looks like she will be a spinster here with me until I am on my death bed. There is not a single man in Kempton that will take her. She is a comely woman. But her dowry is…” Mr. Fenwick trailed off.
Rupert read the story in his troubled face. It was common enough. Large estates like Mr. Fenwick’s often provided a facade for what was, effectively, poverty. One could not show such poverty to the world of high society, of course, and so many an estate was an expensive facade, behind which once-wealthy families scrambled to appear wealthy while struggling in reality.
“Tell me, then, what you think the reason for this behavior might be?” Rupert asked gently, diplomatically trying to change the subject. There was no need to discuss Mr. Fenwick’s financial affairs, and the man had already paid Rupert half of his fee.
Douglas cleared his throat with a cough. He took in a slow, deep breath then let it out in an even slower exhale. “The girl is incorrigible,” he said, growling the last word. “Girl,” he went on. “I should say woman. Nineteen years and in her second season. Pleasing to the eye, as I mentioned. And whip smart. That, I daresay, is all of the problem.”
A soft smile stretched across Rupert’s mouth. He’d heard the story currently unfolding countless times. The exhausted, hopeless look Douglas wore was not new to him, either. “Impertinent?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Impossible,” Douglas replied. He tipped his glass back and swallowed what remained of his sherry. “I am not of the opinion that women are to be seen and not heard, Rupert. Not at all. But this is going too far.”
“How so?” Rupert asked.
Douglas rearranged himself in his fireside chair yet again and pulled at the lapels of his smoking jacket. “I have had a half dozen very eligible gentlemen up to meet her. No small feat given the distance to the city and her lack of dowry. Each and every one has ever so delicately insinuated their disinterest after, at most, a quarter of an hour with Ms. Thorncliffe.”
Rupert nodded solemnly. “Is she rude?” he asked.
“Shrewdly so,” Douglas replied. “She is clever enough to know the sway her appearances hold over men. They show great interest at first.”
“And then she cuts them.”
Rupert’s eyes widened for a moment. “Cuts them?” he muttered.
“With her delicately sharp tongue,” Douglas explained.
Rupert had to chuckle.
Douglas locked eyes with him. “Two fortnights ago, in the evening, Mrs. Hedgepot went to take Emma her evening milk. She found her chambers empty and, of course, came running to me in a panic. The whole house was awoken and a search was begun. And you will not guess what, after a good hour of calling and crawling through stables and woods past the glen, we found.”
Rupert steepled his fingers, leaned back in his chair, and tipped his head back ever so slightly. “I might try to guess,” he said.
“Please do!” Douglas said.
“You found the young woman in a somewhat compromised position with some young man.”
Douglas’s jaw dropped.
Without waiting for further reaction, Rupert went on. “Were your estate closer to the city I would guess some rake or another for whom she was lifting her skirts. Given your lovely location in the countryside I would venture to say the farmhand or stable boy from two barns down the road. Have I got it right?” He couldn’t suppress the half-smile that curled one corner of his mouth.
“By God, Rupert, but how could you know that?” Douglas asked, astonished. He went on without waiting for an answer. “Well, no matter. Even if you managed to guess that right you will not believe where we found her indulging these indecencies.”
“I would say in the forest somewhere or perhaps behind a stack of hay bales out in the field?”
Douglas’s eyes opened wider still. “How in the blazes… but you are right again! There she was with her skirts up under the open sky. Like an animal!”
Rupert picked up his drink and lubricated his throat with the rest of it. He resisted the smile that was threatening to form on his mouth again. Douglas was clearly upset. It would be rude to make light of the situation.
Setting his glass back down, he folded one hand over the other on his lap. “And so you summoned me?”
“You are certainly aware of the write-up in the Telegraph about your fledgling practice,” Douglas said, seemingly with some shame.
This time Rupert allowed himself a smile. “I certainly am. They were very generous.”
Douglas looked at him from out of the corner of his eye. “And so, naturally, after reading about your… methods,” he cleared his throat again, now clearly embarrassed, “I thought it would make sense to inquire about whether you could help us here.”
Rupert gave a nod. “Give what you have described I am certain that I can,” he said.
Douglas looked at him with cautious optimism. “I must admit that I was somewhat embarrassed while reading the piece,” he said. “They did not go into great detail about your approach, though I gathered that you employ physical corrections in your treatments?”
Rupert had seen the expression Douglas was wearing many times before. Many a guardian found such sensitive subjects difficult to broach. “I do,” he replied. “If you’ll humor me I can elucidate further, then you can decide whether you approve and whether you would like to retain me for my services.”
“Of course, of course,” Douglas said, gesticulating. “Please do.”
“Very well,” Rupert said. “Let me start by saying that the nature of this plight was brought to my attention toward the end of my medical studies under Dr. Barlow. You may have heard of his research into the reasons for female misbehavior?”
“Vaguely,” Douglas muttered.
“Well, it is not crucial that you are familiar with his body of work. It will suffice for you to know that while his approach was largely academic, I became interested in the more practical applications of such knowledge.”
Douglas raised an eyebrow.
Rupert settled into his seat. “It is a commonly known fact that at a certain age all young men and women, unless impeccably raised, are at the mercy of their passions, wouldn’t you say?”
Douglas gave a begrudging harrumph in agreement.
“Young men we put to work. If they break the law we throw them in jail. With young women, however, the situation is more delicate. How many a young lady do you think goes uncorrected for misbehavior?”
Douglas stared blankly, unsure of what to say.
“A great many, I assure you. Not many a man wants to take the switch to a young girl’s bottom and not many a governess is given permission to do so. And so these girls very quickly learn that if they want to, they can get away with a great many things.”
Douglas’s eyes lit up, as if he was connecting it all together.
“And then,” Rupert went on, “they come of age and their sexual desires are awakened. Suddenly the problem is two-pronged. A lusty young woman who has not been taught to control her tongue and is now at the mercy of her natural instincts.”
Douglas’s eyes bugged wider still.
“I took Dr. Barlow’s work and decided that, as there must be a cure for every disease, so too must there be a solution to this problem. You see, Douglas, these young women require discipline. Discipline in the form of regular corrections for misbehavior. They also require training in mastery over their budding sexual proclivities. I operate at the intersection of those two hypotheses. I am at once disciplinarian and instructor. I teach the young lady not to lift her skirts for every Thomas, Richard, and Harry who smiles at her. She learns, instead, that she will have one natural master in her life: her husband. She is instructed in the manner of pleasing a man, staying chaste and, if we have time, good taste in all things as well.” He paused a moment to allow Douglas to digest what he’d said.
Douglas stared at him in disbelief and shook his head. “By God, Rupert, you’re talking sense,” he said, stunned. “But does this method work?”
“I’m glad you think so,” Rupert replied, smiling. “As for the efficacy of the method I have, so far, found it to be infallible.”
“You don’t say?” Douglas whispered.
“I do so humbly,” Rupert offered. “It is our great failure as a society that we leave these women to their whims. To be exploited by the more immoral among us. To allow them to fall into the arms of those who seek only to use their cunnies then dispose of them when they are no longer a convenience. A tragedy, really.”
“I had never thought of it that way,” Douglas muttered, staring at the carpet. He looked up at Rupert with a great sadness in his eyes and on his countenance. “I have failed her, haven’t I?”
Rupert waved away his concern. “You mustn’t blame yourself, old friend. You, as most guardians I have dealt with, I am confident have tried to do your best by the girl. Would you say so?”
“I’ve tried everything, dear Rupert,” Douglas replied.
“Everything you believed you had at your disposal,” Rupert added.
“And yet I missed something.” Douglas said morosely.
“Again, do not blame yourself, Douglas. You had your reasons for forgoing corporal punishment, I’m sure,” Rupert said.
Douglas sighed. “I was but her guardian, Rupert. Were she a lad I would have had no trouble bringing a cane down on his arse. But a girl? Yet alone, a woman? I haven’t the stomach for it.”
“A perfectly valid reason,” Rupert said. “And the reason so many of the women whose course I am summoned to correct have strayed from the path of virtue.”
Douglas regarded him with a doubtful expression. “And you find that these… these corrections really have the intended effect?”
“As I mentioned, I have yet to meet a patient I couldn’t cure,” Rupert said, unable to keep a note of pride out of his voice.
Douglas snorted in disbelief. “That is astonishing. The last month has been one long lament for me. I tried as best I could to raise the girl. I was in turns livid and utterly despairing about how she’s turned out.” He looked at Rupert with hope in his eyes. “Believe me when I say that hearing this fills me with great promise. If you can do what you say you can, it may well mean I won’t have to live out my years ruminating over my failures with young Emma.”
Rupert offered a sincere smile and leaned forward in his chair. “You have my assurance that you will not,” he said, patting Douglas on the knee.
Douglas looked sideways, then back at Rupert out of the corner of his eye.
Again, Rupert knew the look. “You would like to know exactly what the method entails?” he asked.
“I worry you might think I have a crooked mind for wanting to know,” he muttered.
Rupert let out a hearty laugh. “Absolutely not!” Douglas’s description of the young woman’s plight had chased away the tiredness he’d felt moments ago. “In fact I find that often a public correction can do what ten private sessions cannot. There is no secrecy about my work.”
“Fascinating,” Douglas said, looking at him squarely again. “You wouldn’t cane a young woman though, would you?”
“That all depends on the severity of the affliction,” Rupert explained. “In serious cases I have no compunction whatsoever about using a crop or cane to discipline an errant young woman. If the situation calls for milder measures, a simple clap or two on the bottom with an open hand might suffice. It is contingent on the woman’s temperament.”
“Hm,” Douglas growled. “I can assure you that you will need all of the tools in your kit in the case of young Emma Thorncliffe,” he said gravely.
“Right,” Rupert said. “And so now about young Emma Thorncliffe. I would like to meet her this evening. I had a thought about retiring after our chat but nothing invigorates me more than my professional life. The sooner I get to know her, the sooner we can begin the difficult work of turning her around.”
“Of course, of course,” Douglas said. He picked up the bell on the side table by his chair and rang it. “Mrs. Hedgepot will be along shortly. I’ll have her fetch Emma and you can meet her at…”
Douglas was interrupted by a loud and somewhat impatient sounding knock at the door. “Come!” he barked.
A moment later the door swung open and a rather lanky older woman stepped in holding a blushing young blonde by what seemed like the scruff of her neck.
“You’ve read my mind,” Douglas chortled. “Mrs. Hedgepot, this is Dr. Rupert Dobson,” he said.
“Good evening to you, Doctor,” Mrs. Hedgepot said. She seemed quite displeased, her cheeks red with fury. She turned to Douglas. “I wish it were so that I had read your mind, sir,” she said. “Instead I found this impertinent thing that I dare not call a lady, standing behind this very door and trying to listen in on your conversation!” she snapped.
Douglas’s expression filled with fury.
As Rupert turned in his chair to get a look at his latest subject, he began to feel more than a little lightheaded. He’d never seen such an entrancing young woman in his life.
Emma Thorncliffe was teetering on the verge of an outburst. While it was somewhat true that she had been standing behind the door listening, she felt it justified as she had some suspicion that the conversation happening in the smoking room had something to do with her. That sour old hen Felicity Hedgepot grabbing the back of the dress had startled her at first. That initial surprise had quickly turned to fury. How dare she lay a hand on her?
Through her rage, though, as her eyes darted around the room, they came to settle on the undeniably handsome figure of a youngish man sitting in the chair opposite Mr. Fenwick. Though seated, he looked to be almost a foot taller than her. He had wide blue eyes, broad shoulders for what seemed to be a gentleman, a strong jaw, and well-coiffed hair. She had deduced from Mr. Fenwick’s introduction that he was a doctor of some sort. Perhaps the conversation had nothing to do with her at all? She’d been unable to hear a thing through the door.
Douglas looked enraged. That gave her no small pleasure but she resisted smiling about it. He hauled himself out of his chair and stormed over to where she was being held captive by the old cow Hedgepot. “Emma, what is the meaning of this?” he roared.
“Let go of me, you vazey wagtail,” she said, freeing herself of Hedgepot’s grasp. She took great delight in the squeal the old bag made at the insult, and in Douglas’s incredulous gasp. She took two steps sideways and one step back to keep from getting ensnared in the old crow’s talons again.
“How dare you speak like that in front of our guest?” Douglas seethed, spittle flying from his pursed lips. He was so red he looked like he might catch fire.
Instead of replying, Emma looked over his shoulder at the doctor as he stood up. She eyed him with some interest as he approached. A strange feeling blossomed within her as he came to stand behind Douglas. Something akin to what had sent her out into the night and into the arms of Benjamin, the muscled farmhand from the Stanley estate down the road. But different at the same time.
“I assure you I’ve taken no offense,” the doctor said to Douglas. “On the contrary, my introduction to Ms. Thorncliffe, such as it was, has illustrated exactly the extent of your problem.”
Emma raised an eyebrow. Problem? What exactly was this doctor here to fix?
“This is what I’m talking about, Rupert,” Douglas fumed. He turned to look at Hedgepot, who’d gone white as a sheet.
Emma smirked when she saw her.
“Mrs. Hedgepot,” Douglas said, putting a hand on her arm and leading her toward the door. “Go and take a half a sherry so you may recover,” he said. “And then you may repair to your room for the night. Dr. Dobson and I will take care of this.”
Hedgepot gave a slight nod, though she still seemed stunned. Douglas closed the door and walked back to where she and the doctor were standing. “Now, Dr. Dobson, what remedy would you suggest for such a flagrantly impolite outburst?” he asked.
Remedy? Did he mean for her outburst? Was that what this was? Had this doctor been summoned to cure her out of her behavior? The thought nearly made her burst into laughter. Douglas was forever chastising her for her impropriety. She found nothing wrong in curing him of his antiquated notions about how women should behave.
She, in fact, felt that women should be allowed to enjoy all the rights men did. And partake in all the same pleasures. If she wanted to sneak a gin and then meet a boy in a field or the forest, then that was her prerogative. And now that she was of an age where she was responsible for herself there wasn’t a thing anyone could do about it. Still, she looked at the doctor somewhat warily. His temperament seemed far more stern than Douglas’s.
“For an indiscretion such as the one Ms. Thorncliffe just demonstrated I would certainly use a crop on her nude bottom.” He turned his head and locked eyes with her as he said it.
Her own gasp surprised her. She could hardly believe her ears. Had she heard him correctly? A crop? On her nude bottom? Her cheeks began to heat. He could hardly be serious?
“The sting would well remind her of the consequences for such behavior. I am confident she would think twice next time the spirit gripped her.” He spoke flatly and with an ice-cold stare straight at her.
Emma could hardly bring herself to close her mouth. On the one hand she found what the doctor had suggested utterly offensive. How dare he? Spank her, no, not spank but whip her with a riding crop? For a mere insult?
On the other hand, and it proved difficult to unearth the source of this sentiment, there was something funny happening between her legs. A fluttery, tickling feeling. As if being whipped by a doctor using a riding crop was somehow exciting.
“And when would you suggest applying your remedy, Doctor?” Douglas asked, glaring at her.
She shot him a glare back.
“As soon after the transgression as possible,” the doctor replied. “The sooner the correction is given, the more effective it is.” He continued to stare at her.
And now the way he was looking at her twisted into the funny fluttery feeling. It was maddening. As if in some way some part of her wanted to know what a correction by the doctor’s hand might feel like. She brushed the thought away.
Douglas took a step back. “Well then, Dr. Dobson, you have not just my permission but my enthusiastic invitation to begin healing this creature of her horrible ways.”
Emma’s jaw dropped. A moment later she let out a guffaw, then laughed in the direction of the doctor. “I’m not quite sure what’s happening here but I assure you that no…” She paused, barely able to repeat the doctor’s indecent words. But she was gripped by the need to shock him the same way he had shocked her. She stared straight into his eyes and let the slightest smile linger on her lips. “I assure you that no crops will be used on nude bottoms this evening,” she said. She thought she saw the beginnings of a smile form on his lips.
He took a step forward. Towering over her, his height at once dominant and commanding, he stared deep into her eyes. He seemed unperturbed at hearing his words repeated. “And I assure you, Ms. Thorncliffe, they will.”
The certainty and resolve with which he spoke sent a shudder trembling down her spine. She did her utter best to hold his gaze. Seconds ticked by. Then a minute. She felt her own resolve crumbling. His unflinching stare bored down into her very core. Finally, when she could stand it no longer, she turned her face to the side and looked away. Out of the corner of her eye she saw his smile flicker to life. A furious rage consumed her at being bested by those eyes. She clenched her fists and glared first at Douglas, then at him. “Might I remind you that I am of age and that any violation of my personal rights would be criminal,” she said, her voice tight with anger.
Douglas coughed into a fist. “Emma,” he said. “I might take this opportunity to remind you that, though you are of age as you say, you are still under my roof. I consider myself a generous man but my generosity is not boundless. I have summoned Dr. Dobson here as a last resort. I am at the end of my rope. You will submit to whatever regimen the good doctor prescribes or you will no longer be welcome in this household.”
Emma clenched her teeth and balled her fists. If there was one thing she hated more than anything else it was being backed into a corner like this. Worse than that was the infuriating realization that she had absolutely no recourse. She would either heed Douglas’s direction or end up penniless on the street. Breathing deeply to cool her flaring temper, she relaxed her jaw and her hands. “Well,” she said. “I hope you are satisfied with yourself. Bullying a young woman who has relied on your charity when you know how vulnerable I would be if you cast me out of this house.”
Douglas’s only reply was a stern gaze.
And there was the doctor, standing and staring at her as if he knew the outcome of this already. The searing heat of his gaze only inflamed her already burning cheeks. “Mr. Fenwick,” he said. “Would you kindly fetch my medical bag from over by the door?” he asked, his voice low.
“Gladly,” Douglas muttered as he puttered and huffed to pick up the bag. He brought it back and held it out for the doctor.
“You are most kind,” the doctor said. And still he was staring at her. “Now if you would open it and select from one of the crops inside.”
Her nostrils flared and her eyes widened in disbelief. Surely he wasn’t really going to go through with this? Whip her with a crop? For what? For a casual insult? He had no right!
But there was Douglas, rummaging through the bag and pulling out a long, lean black implement. Handing it to the doctor with a look of perverse pleasure in his eye.
She directed her glare at him, unable to believe he was participating in this charade. Because surely that is what this was. A charade. She was a grown woman! No one had the right to take a crop to her bottom or anywhere else, for that matter. “I’m glad to see you enjoying yourself,” she quipped.
“Rest assured this gives me no pleasure, Emma,” Douglas said.
“Excellent,” the doctor said, taking the implement. “Ms. Thorncliffe, you will cross the room and bend over that desk by the wall. Then you will hike up your skirts so that I may bare your backside. Let me be clear. This punishment is in retribution for the vulgarities you uttered at Mrs. Hedgepot. Were it not for your rudeness it would not be happening.”
She felt her fury building again. It was tempting to storm off and run far away to show them both that she was an independent woman and would not tolerate such an outrage. Then why did it feel like she was rooted to the spot? Why, when she gave them the command to move, did her legs not obey?
And what was that dastardly tickling ache between her legs? Why did it blossom each time she caught a glimpse of the stern and infuriatingly handsome Dr. Rupert Dobson? “I will not,” she managed to mutter through clenched teeth. She felt disgusted by herself when she flinched when the doctor leaned toward her. This was a test of wills and he was winning. Twice she’d succumbed to his dominant behavior, showing herself to be a weak and silly girl. It only enraged her more.
“I assure you, you will,” the doctor said. “The choice you have is whether you will receive an additional punishment for defying me now. What will it be, Ms. Thorncliffe?” he asked. “Ten lashes or twenty?”
She clenched her teeth. The reality of what was happening her fell on her like a heavy blanket. The doctor was serious. He really meant to whip her bottom. And now he was giving her a choice. Did she want ten lashes or twenty? And there was Douglas’s ultimatum to consider. The thought of twenty strikes with that sharp crop broke her will, but not her spirit. She shot the doctor her fiercest glare before turning and walking with as much dignity as she could muster toward the desk.
He would have his punishment. But he would not have the pleasure of hearing her complain about it. She would clench her teeth through all ten lashes and not whimper a single sound of protest.
The doctor stood in place, watching her cross the room and looking quite pleased with himself. She hated him for it. Whatever this perverse exercise was, it seemed like the best way to endure it would be to go along with his orders and get it over with. Once he was gone she would resume being the Emma Thorncliffe that she had always been. Fenwick and Hedgepot could cluck about it all they wanted. She stood stock still at the desk, staring straight ahead at the wall.
The doctor walked over and stood beside her. “I’m very proud of you, Ms. Thorncliffe,” he said.
Her throat went tight. Proud? She’d never heard anyone say that in her life. Inexplicably, she felt tears stinging the corners of her eyes. She breathed deeply, channeling all the will she had at keeping them from spilling. He would not get an ounce of emotion out of her. The silence stretched out for an unbearable length of time. Doctor Dobson watched her for all of it.
“I know that must have taken great courage, to obey my command as you did.”
And now he was speaking of courage? What courage? It felt closer to cowardice, walking to the whipping post for fear of more punishment.
“For that I will halve the punishment for your rude outburst.”
That sent a wave of relief washing over her. Five was not nearly as bad as ten. Perhaps this man could be negotiated with. Perhaps there was a way to make all of this pass quickly. Act the obedient patient, or pupil or whatever he thought she was, and he would be out of her life in a flash.
And somehow that thought filled her with a dull sadness.
What is wrong with me?
“Now if you will do as I asked, bend over the desk and lift your skirts.”
Anger and outrage and a strange melancholy swirled inside her. She was still reasoning with her mind, however. The sooner you obey the doctor, the sooner this will be over. She did not expect the intense sense of shame and humiliation that gripped her as she bent at the waist. She thought once again to fight this. To run from the room and hide somewhere they would never find her. Perhaps marry the farmhand she’d met and live a quaint life in a cottage somewhere. At least he wouldn’t whip her for some petty utterance.
“Very good,” the doctor said. “Now lift your skirts, please.”
Her lip was trembling. Her resolve to not shed a single tear or let out even a tiny squeak of protest was faltering. The shame of baring herself for this stranger was pulsing inside her. And there was Fenwick! Looking on with his arms folded across his chest, looking as smug as she’d ever seen him. She turned and stared at the wall again, and reached back behind herself to hitch up her skirts as the doctor had ordered.
Suddenly the humiliation twisted through the strange tickle in her core. A fresh wave of embarrassment crashed onto her as she realized that her cunny was wetting and there was not a thing she could do about it. The doctor would peel down her underthings and see the slippery line of her sex and there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop it from happening. She nearly whimpered. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Douglas avert his gaze.
“No, no, Mr. Fenwick,” the doctor said. “I appreciate your effort to preserve Ms. Thorncliffe’s modesty. However I find that the most effective tools in my kit are those that strike deepest. I would encourage you to come and observe her punishment.”
Fenwick furrowed his brow. He glanced at her and seemed to weigh his own sense of propriety against what the doctor had said. Finally, muttering something unintelligible, he shuffled over and stood behind the doctor.
She felt the doctor hook a finger in her underthings. A wave of hot shame washed over her. The tickle became an ache again. An unrelenting, throbbing thing that, of all things, made her want to touch herself to relieve it. More shame coursed through her as she felt her underthings being pulled down, the soft flesh of her rear, and then the sensitive petals of her damp sex being exposed to both the doctor and Mr. Fenwick.
She had never felt more embarrassed in all of her life. Not when Hedgepot had caught her fondling herself in her chamber. Not even when they’d found her with the farmhand. She cursed both Fenwick and the damned doctor in her mind.
“You will count out each strike aloud,” the doctor said, his voice not nearly as harsh as it should have been before performing such an act. In fact, there was a tenderness to it that caught her off guard. “Did you hear me, Ms. Thorncliffe?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said through clenched teeth.
“Excellent. Then we begin.”
He was hardly done speaking the last word when the crop whistled through the air and connected with her bottom. She bucked. The pain, first sharp, then warming and spreading through her, was not what she had expected. It was searing, yes. It was terrible. And yet somehow there was something deep within it that she found… comforting?
How can that possibly be?
“Ms. Thorncliffe. Have you forgotten to count?” the doctor asked.
Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she exhaled and spoke softly. “One.”
The crop swished through the air and landed in the exact spot of the first strike with surgical precision.
Again the initial bite of the crop was followed by a glowing warmth and then a deep sense of satisfaction. “Two,” she said, her body and mind surprisingly no longer scared of the doctor or his crop.
Another strike. The same sensations only amplified. “Three.”
A fourth crack. This time she closed her eyes. Let her mind slip deeper into the warm feeling that came at the tail end of the pain. “Four.”
The final blow landed. Her eyes flew open and she drew in a sharp breath. Not because what she felt was any worse or better than the previous four. Rather because, having let herself examine her reaction more closely, she found the feeling at the end of the pain quite near to pleasure. This brought the deeply shameful revelation that her womanhood was even more moist than when the doctor had begun his correction—a fact she found puzzling and intriguing all at once.
The doctor pulling up her underthings to cover her backside dragged her out of her mind and back into the room.
“You may lower your skirts and rise, Ms.,” he said.
She did. She pushed herself up with her hands on the desk and smoothed out the front of her dress. Putting on her most dignified expression, she turned to face the doctor and Mr. Fenwick. The skin beneath her underthings burned enough to make the soft fabric itch against it, and the hot pleasure she did not understand rolled in waves through her lower abdomen and her cunny, like an animal trapped inside of her.
But she would not let this doctor, or Mr. Fenwick, see into her mind or her body. They might be able to force her to endure this punishment, but unless she told them, they would not know how it had affected her. They could not be allowed to have any satisfaction—either from believing that they had broken her spirit, or that they had awakened something inside of her.
She tilted her head ever so slightly to one side. “Have you finished with your fun for the evening?” she asked, voice cold as ice. It gave her no small pleasure to see the smallest flicker of surprise flash across the doctor’s face. It was quite pleasant seeing Mr. Fenwick’s exasperation rekindle at her words. She thought he might lie on the floor and assume the fetal position.
“You will retire to your room for the night,” the doctor said. This time the sternness seemed a bit more put on. A bit more acted than genuine.
That made her smile, as exasperating anyone was her favorite pastime, but it was far more pleasing when she managed to exasperate a man like Dr. Dobson. Even if her own indifference to this spectacle was also an act, she took pleasure in the fact that she had cracked the stern facade of the doctor.
She smiled. “I bid you good evening,” she said. Without waiting for a reply, she turned and walked out the door, not bothering to close it behind her. She smiled all the way up the stairs and into her chamber.
For a whipping, that had gone about as well as she could have imagined.