“Yes, thank you, Mama,” replied Lettie with an edge of irritation to her voice that Andrew could not quite blame her for expressing.
“Oh, very well, very well. It was excessively disappointing that you missed the picnic, dear. Poor Annabel did not stop asking after you.”
“I am sure she should be quite recovered by now, Mama,” replied Lettie without looking up from her bowl of soup.
Andrew was a little concerned that Lettie seemed determined not to catch his eye—or indeed anyone’s—and had been unusually quiet throughout dinner so far, only speaking when spoken to and even then with very little enthusiasm. When Ellie had returned to the picnic, she had whispered to him that Lettie’s spirits had seemed much improved and so he had not expected this level of sullenness. What had happened between Ellie leaving her room and dinner being served to put her in such an ill humour?
Though Ellie, James, and Mrs. Waterford kept the conversation going through to dessert, Andrew felt the loss of Lettie’s witty remarks and arch asides. There seemed to be far less merriment around the table now that Lettie was no longer an active contributor to the conversation and though Andrew still felt himself to have been justified in disciplining her, he was grieved at the thought that he might have caused her genuine unhappiness.
It was only many hours later, when the family party had retired to the candlelit drawing room, that Andrew had the opportunity to speak with Lettie in confidence. She was sitting a little away from the rest of the family, at her mother’s writing desk, her fair hair shining like gold in the candlelight.
“May I join you?” he asked.
Lettie did not answer but simply indicated the chair next to hers.
Andrew sat down and leaned toward her, as closely as propriety would allow. “Lettie, what is the matter?” he whispered.
“Why on earth would anything be the matter?” she whispered back, her attention still focused on the book in her hands. “After all, I like nothing better than being imprisoned in my own room for hours at a time. Indeed, it never fails to lift my spirits.”
Though her tone was flippant, Andrew could feel the full weight of her distress beneath her words and he cursed himself for imposing such a harsh period of isolation onto a girl who clearly thrived in the company of other people. No wonder she had seemed so disheartened and distant. The discipline that Andrew believed in should leave the recipient feeling instructed and cared for, not abandoned or despondent.
“Miss Waterford, forgive me,” he whispered. “I should not have told you to stay on your own for so long. I see now that such an approach is not appropriate for someone of your character and temperament. It will not happen again.”
Lettie finally stopped pretending to read her book and instead turned to look at him. “And what of the rest of it?” she whispered. “Will that happen again?”
“Only if your behaviour warrants it,” he replied.
Andrew saw the movement of her pale throat as she swallowed and he noticed that the drawing room suddenly felt much warmer. He cleared his throat and shifted a little in his chair.
“Then I… I shall endeavour to give you no reason to do so, sir.”
Andrew bowed his head to her and then smiled. “I am glad to hear that, Lettie. Now,” he said, raising his voice to its usual volume, “may I tempt you to play for us? Your sister often talks of your proficiency on the pianoforte and I must confess I have been eager to hear you play ever since our arrival.”
Lettie held out her hand and allowed him to draw her to her feet, the arch smile back on her face as though it had never been gone. “Of course, Mr. Hunter! Though I fear that dear Ellie may have exaggerated my skills.”
It transpired, however, that there had been no such exaggeration, and Andrew listened, rapt with attention, as Lettie obliged them with Mozart’s Sonata in C, followed by Haydn’s Capriccio in G Major. Her touch was light and delicate and yet somehow also soulful, the music that might simply have been pretty and well-ordered becoming something altogether finer and deeper in her skilled hands. Miss Laetitia Waterford made the pianoforte tell a beautiful story and Mr. Andrew Hunter could not help himself imagining how very wonderful a thing it would be to have such music in his own house.
“You play beautifully,” he said, as Lettie stood and began to tidy away her music.
“I confess I find my performance always improves when I have an audience. Does that make me terribly vain, do you think, Mr. Hunter?”
“No indeed,” he replied at once with an indulgent smile.
She laughed. “I fear that it does, sir, and that you are simply too much of a gentleman to say so.”
Andrew laughed too, relieved at her improvement in spirits and glad that she appeared to bear him no ill will following her punishment. Though she may have her faults, it seemed that they included neither prolonged sulking nor resentment. No indeed: it appeared that once an issue had been resolved, she rallied and put the entire matter behind her, and Andrew so approved of this approach to life that he found his admiration for her rising even further.
“Will you play for me again before we leave?” he asked, as Lettie closed the lid of the pianoforte.
“Mr. Hunter, I shall play for you every evening of your visit if it shall dissuade you from scolding me,” she teased, though in a rather softer voice than she had been using previously.
Andrew could not help but smile in response.
“Lettie, dearest, we simply cannot extend the visit any further than we already have. James has urgent business with his steward and Andrew is going to stay with his maternal aunt on Tuesday.”
Lettie’s only response was to glower at her sister before once again retreating behind her book.
“I know that you are not truly reading,” admonished Ellie, placing her hands upon her hips. “And I think it very unfair of you to heap guilt upon me when you know very well that I have no desire to be parted from you.”
Lettie tossed her book onto the sofa. “You have barely been here three weeks! I wonder at your coming at all if it must only be for such a triflingly short time.”
“It should not have felt so very short if Mama had not filled every waking moment with parties and engagements,” countered Ellie. “And well you know that I had little choice in the matter when it came to that. Now do you mean to quarrel with me for the entirety of our last evening together, sister, or shall you come with me to get ready for dinner?”
Lettie sighed and stood up but with very ill grace indeed. “I shall but do not expect me to be civil.”
But Eleanor could only watch and sigh as her younger sister swept out of the room, leaving her book open and discarded upon the sofa.
True to her word, Lettie was not at all civil during dinner and it was all Ellie could do to keep her countenance as her younger sister glared and sniped her way through every course. Any enquiry after her health or spirits was met with cold contempt, every attempt at conversation was rebuffed, and even the simplest of social niceties was pointedly overlooked. Poor Ellie was quite distressed.
“Could you pass the potatoes, please, Lettie?” asked Mrs. Waterford, who—like her husband—appeared oblivious to Lettie’s furious temper.
“They are closer to James,” replied Lettie with a cold smile that made Ellie wish to take her by the shoulders and shake her. “Why do you not ask him? Have I suddenly become your servant?”
“Lettie!” Eleanor hissed across the table.
James, however, picked up the dish of potatoes without a word and passed them to Mrs. Waterford, who was now looking at her younger daughter with mild curiosity.
“My dear, are you quite well?” she asked, scooping a spoonful of boiled potatoes onto her plate. “It would be really rather tiresome if you were to become ill again, you know. Particularly now that your sister is leaving us. Lord, how dull we shall all be!” she exclaimed with a laugh.
It was all Ellie could do not to roll her eyes at her mother. Goodness, but could she not see that her foolish words only made things worse?
“Oh, I am excessively well, Mama,” replied Lettie in that sweet, cold voice of hers. “Nothing pleases me more than the thought of being here with only you and Papa for company. Nothing in the world.”
The malice in this statement was clear to everyone in the room bar its intended recipients. Mrs. Waterford merely smiled at her daughter and returned to her potatoes. Mr. Waterford appeared not to have heard at all and immediately launched into a conversation about shooting with James. Ellie, however, could see her brother-in-law watching Lettie closely and the expression of displeasure on his face told her that Lettie’s uncivil behaviour had certainly not gone unnoticed by him.
Oh, if only they did not have to go and leave Lettie behind! In her more wistful moments, Ellie had imagined that Andrew might make an offer to Lettie before this visit had ended. It was clear enough that he liked her very much and he was not the kind of man to be fickle. However, she was sensible enough to know that a proposal after a mere three-week acquaintance would offend her brother-in-law’s sense of reason and propriety. She only hoped that this evening’s performance had not put an end to his affection for her sister.
“Miss Waterford, will you join me in the library?”
Lettie glared up at Mr. Andrew Hunter from the book that she had been pretending to read for the past twenty minutes. “Whatever for, sir?” she asked, tilting her head to one side. “Surely you do not require my opinion on which book to choose? I am certain a man such as yourself will have all his views on the matter already formed.”
Determined as she was to goad him into an act of anger or abandonment in the presence of her relations, Lettie was furious when he kept his countenance and simply repeated his calm request for her to join him in the library.
“I will not,” she whispered, turning her face a little to ensure that her family would not see.
Andrew raised his eyebrows and his expression became almost imperceptibly sterner. “I assure you that you shall, Miss Waterford. I would speak with you before I leave.”
Lettie considered further refusals or else leaving the room entirely. For one wild moment, she even considered throwing her book at his severe, self-righteous face. Instead, she drew herself up with all of the dignity that she could muster and gave him the most contemptuous curtsey she had ever given to anyone. “Come along then, if you must,” she said coldly before turning and leaving the room, with Mr. Andrew Hunter following close behind her.
Though she expected the scolding to begin the moment that she and Mr. Hunter were out of earshot, he surprised her by walking by her side in silence as they made their way along the corridor to the library. Only once that door had closed firmly behind them did he speak.
“Lettie, what is the matter?” he asked softly, his hand still pressed against the smooth wood of the door.
Prepared as she was for a harsh reprimand, Lettie could for a moment think of no response. Flustered, she turned away and walked into the centre of the room. “Why on earth should anything be the matter?” she asked, trying to affect her usual flippant tone but not quite succeeding.
“Do not toy with me, Lettie. We both know that you are unhappy; if nothing else, this evening’s miserable performance has demonstrated that beyond all doubt.”
“How familiar you are,” retorted Lettie, “to know all my own thoughts so intimately.”
“Do you deny it?”
“You have already declared it to be so, sir; I rather wonder at your needing my opinion at all.”
“Have a care, young lady. You are already due a spanking; do not make it worse for yourself.”
Lettie gasped and span around at his words, her brown eyes wide and truly looking at him for the first time since she and Mr. Hunter had entered this room. “You have no right!”
“We have already discussed this, Laetitia. I said that I would chastise you again if your behaviour warranted it and I must say your behaviour has more than warranted it this evening.” His voice was calm but firm as he walked toward her. “Your impertinence, your incivility, and your lack of concern for the feelings of others has been unpardonable and I must confess myself surprised that you did not know what the outcome would be when I asked to speak with you.”
“I… I suppose I had believed you might have… softened toward me in the ensuing weeks… but I see now that I am mistaken… and that I mean as little to you now as I did that day at the picnic…” Lettie’s lips were trembling and she inwardly cursed herself for being so open with a man who was at this very moment preparing to chastise her. What a fool she was to waste her true feelings on him!
“Whether or not my feelings have softened would make no difference to my decision to discipline you, Lettie. And I assure you that I hold you in very high esteem, just as I did on the day of the picnic. Indeed, you should take my actions this evening as a mark of that esteem. Now come here.”
Lettie looked at his outstretched hand with trepidation, her belly clenching and unclenching like a fist.
“Come now, Lettie. I do not wish to force you again but I shall if I deem it necessary.”
After another moment’s hesitation, Lettie pressed her eyes closed and, at the same instant, placed her gloved hand in his.
“Good girl,” he murmured, and Lettie despised herself for the feelings of pleasure his approval roused within her.
There was, however, little time to dwell on self-reproach as, the very next moment, Lettie felt the world upend as she was tipped over his lap once again.
“Oh, sir! Please!” The humiliation was almost as unbearable as last time.
“Hush,” he admonished her, drawing up the skirts of her evening gown and pulling apart the thin white fabric of her drawers. “It is time for you to learn to accept your chastisement with humility and submission. You will not speak unless spoken to, is that clear?”
Lettie’s only response was a low moan of angry resentment.
Andrew replied with a hard smack on her up-thrust bottom that made her squeak. “Is that clear, Laetitia?”
“Ow! Yes, sir,” she hissed, her face red both with anger and with the indignity of her position.
Another smack. “I will not tolerate disrespect, young lady. Answer me properly or I shall forget my desire to be lenient and this shall be a far harsher punishment than I was intending.”
Lettie gasped. “Y-yes, sir,” she repeated at once.
Mr. Hunter then began to spank her in earnest, his hard palm coming down again, again, and again in brisk, forceful smacks that set every inch of her bare bottom on fire. Within moments, she was squeaking and kicking her feet.
“Keep your feet on the floor, young lady,” he scolded, landing a sharp smack on the back of her thigh, which made her yelp. “You have earned this punishment; the least you can do is attempt to accept it with grace.”
Lettie could little believe that anyone—not even her beautifully behaved sister—could be graceful in a situation such as this, but she held her tongue. Even she was not foolish enough to goad a man when he had her held down over his knee with her skirts bunched up around her waist. There was a time and a place for flippancy and this was neither. And so, pressing her feet back into the floorboards, Lettie simply screwed her eyes closed and willed her body to stay still as the spanking continued.
“There is no excuse for how you behaved this evening, Laetitia,” said Andrew, as she whimpered and flinched under his punishing hand. “It is time for you to learn how to express your feelings without descending to malice and insolence. There is so much more to you than this cold, ironic façade that you insist on presenting to the world and it pains me to see you indulge in all the worst aspects of your character.”
Though her bottom was burning and her pride was injured further still, Lettie could not help but feel moved by the emotion in her disciplinarian’s voice. That he cared about her was unquestionable. In what way he cared about her though was an entirely different matter and Lettie could not be sure that any of this curious behaviour was not simply the result of brotherly concern and nothing more significant than that.
And yet… his hand at her waist, holding her in place and pulling her in close to his body… that did not feel brotherly. The passion in his voice as he scolded her, the tone warm but not with anger, his most urgent assertions punctuated with the hardest of spanks… Mr. Hunter did not speak as a brother or any concerned family member might in such circumstances. That her behaviour had displeased him was certain enough but as to why he felt compelled to respond in this way, to devote his time and energy to her correction… that was as yet a mystery.
A particularly hard smack on the underside of her left cheek made Lettie cry out. “Please, sir! No more.”
“Yes, Lettie,” Andrew countered, his voice calm but firm. “You have behaved very badly and deserve to be chastised thoroughly.”
True to his word, this chastisement was thorough indeed. The point at which Lettie had believed him to be almost finished was in fact barely at the halfway mark and she was tearful, exhausted, and contrite long before he decided to finally bring the punishment to a close.
“Have I made my sentiments clear, Laetitia?” he asked, resting his hand on her hot, tender bottom.
“Yes, sir,” she wept, her whole body sagging in relief at the realisation that the spanking was now over.
He stroked her back, his hand gentle now. “Good girl. Now do you wish to return to the drawing room or would you prefer to retire. It is late enough, should you wish to.”
Aware of her tearstained cheeks, untidy hair, and rumpled dress, Lettie felt it wisest to choose the latter option. Once upright and suitably smoothed over, she dipped a genuine curtsey to Mr. Hunter. “Good night, sir. Thank you for…” She blushed. “For your… attention.”
Andrew stood and returned her politeness with a solemn bow. “Sleep well, Miss Waterford. I hope to see you much restored in spirits come the morning.”
At the mention of the morning and their imminent departure, Lettie feared that her tears might resurface. Dipping her head, she turned and left the room before she could become overwhelmed by the feeling. In the end, she was able to hold back the tears all the way upstairs and into her bedroom. It was only when the door closed behind her that they burst out in a torrent.
This content is linked through SNP’s newsletter! Don’t miss out on all the free content! It doesn’t stick around long! Add your email below!