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Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Order of Saint Ethelburga (part 1 of 2)

From Uniform Girls 14
The sound of crisp, clear voices soaring above the more sombre tones of the organ. Female voices chanting in joyful unison as they had no doubt done in these ancient stone walls over hundreds of years. Father James smiled at his visitor.
‘They will be at practice for another 30 minutes. The human voice is a truly marvellous instrument, is it not, Mr Whitford? And I always think especially the female voice. Yes: the sound of angels. When trained, of course, to bring it into its full flowering. Brother Oswald does an outstanding job with them. But it is a labour of love; he is a wonderfully dedicated man.’
The visitor, Anthony Whitford, murmured assent. The soaring voices were marvellous. How many would there be? A dozen was it he had been told, nuns and novitiates, in this small daughter house of the Order. One of their number his own niece, Alison, whom he had come to visit today.
Was it his imagination or could he make out Alison’s clear soprano as the combined voices swept and soared. ‘Kyrie eleison… Kyrie! Kyrie eleison…’
It probably was imagination although Alison did have a lovely voice even before coming here and getting the benefit of training from Brother Oswald, Master of Song and of Organ at St Ethelberga’s. Alison was a postulant, of only two weeks standing. As such she had not yet made any vows to remain in the Order and would be free to leave at the end of her postulancy period. Or alternatively become a fully-fledged novitiate. Alison was just 18.
Father James strolled on with his guest, out into St Ethelberga’s splendid grounds. Beautifully-kept and extensive they provided a haven of peace and tranquillity where the young women could in free periods walk and contemplate God’s marvellous earthly works. Free periods, though, at St Ethelberga’s were relatively rare, for it is a fact that with young people — and especially young women — free time can lead not to beneficial contemplation but to idleness, and it is well known how the Devil loves idle minds. More frequently then, a young nun seen walking in these splendid grounds would be accompanied by an instructor. Father James himself or Brother Oswald or one of the others.
The grounds of the priory were not only an example of the wondrous beauties of nature: splendid ancient trees, high banks of rhododendron and laurel. There were also here and there, away from the main building, other, man-made structures: grottoes and temples in the classical manner. These pre-dated St Ethelberga’s occupancy of the priory and had in fact been erected in celebration of pagan deities; but now they were all part of St Ethelberga’s and were in use as retreats for private tuition and devotions. Cosy little havens.
It was always for Father James an excellent joke that St Ethelberga’s had these pagan temples and one he loved to share with a visitor, though now the Order had renamed them for more suitable notables. Our Temple of Apollo he announced to Mr Whitfield as they rounded a corner and came abruptly on what was now in fact known as St Magdalen’s Retreat. A single-roomed stone building of simple classical style, its windows and entrance had originally been merely openings. Now the windows were glazed and the entrance had a stout oak door. Private instruction needed to be private without the possibility of sudden interruption in the middle of events. Such interruption would be not at all good for the young woman being instructed, nor indeed convenient for the instructor. Hence the solid door and its solid (inside) bolt. Hence also drapes could be drawn across the windows.
This classical retreat would be vacant now, with all the young women at their choir practice. Father James took his bunch of keys from his cassock. The garden retreats were kept locked when not in use. Then he recalled that he had lent his key to Brother Gregory. He smiled.
‘A slight hitch. But no matter: I will show you another. Ha-ha! Something even more scandalous. We have, you know, a Temple of Venus!’
The Temple of Venus, now officially St Martha’s Retreat, was further on, in a wooded slope where its stone walls had been built into the actual hillside. Again a classical facade, with a locked door. Father James’ key-ring this time had the correct key. The heavy door opened smoothly on oiled hinges: a door evidently in regular use. The monk switched on an electric light — a device no doubt not contemplated by the original builders. A snug small room which quite belied its external appearance. A sofa, an armchair, a low central table. To one side a desk with chair. The floor softly-carpeted and with heavy drapes at the windows.
A very cosy little sitting room, perfectly neat and tidy. For order and tidiness were undoubted virtues and it was one of the tasks of the novitiate nuns to check and tidy the retreats twice each day. Yes all in perfect order, Father James’s quick eye told him as he had a cursory glance round. Except…
A second, more intent look. Then he darted sharply forward. To sweep up a softly-crumpled white or near-white item from the end of the sofa. Anthony Whitford’s eye followed as this item, the crumpled cloth, was deftly transferred from the sofa to some inner recess of Father James’s robes. The priest smiling, perhaps in slight embarrassment. The flimsy item, in those few seconds, had looked almost like an item of clothing, a female undergarment. A pair of knickers in fact.
Father James was now drawing attention to the bookcase. Mr Whitford glanced at the volumes. What he had just observed became forgotten as he took out a book. Father James turned, humming to himself. Over to the window. With his back to his guest he slipped from his pocket what had been so carelessly left. Careless because everyone knew there was a visitor this afternoon. He turned it in his hands, out of curiosity looking for the waistband — and the name that would be on its inner side. He looked… Then a choking cough. It was a remarkable coincidence. Almost perhaps a celestial joke. By the Goddess Venus perhaps? The name neatly handwritten on the knickers was: Alison.
Not much later, back at the chapel in the main building, choir practice finished and the nuns filed out. Two by two, all eyes discreetly downcast, not looking at Father James and his visitor as the two men stood watching though no doubt with peripheral vision every young woman aware of their presence. White ankle-length habits and rather unusual shaped soft hats, these latter said to be based on the headgear worn by their Patron Saint St Ethelberga when she suffered one of her more devastating ritual scourgings.
All were in the same cassocks and hats but there were different coloured rope belts. Blue and pink and red. As visitors usually did, Mr Whitford remarked on the belts. His own niece, he saw, wore pink. Did they indicate different hierarchical stages?
Father James smiled. Being a godly man he did not like to lie and in any case what Mr Whitford said was in a way correct. ‘That sort of thing,’ he answered. Pink through red to blue. Of course at the very beginning a fresh neophyte wore white. Signifying that she was virgin in all respects. Virgin to all forms of instruction. But such details were naturally not to be discussed with a visitor. Such matters were privy to members of the Order of St Ethelberga only; to its monks and its young women.
Father James called Alison out as the double-line of nuns went meekly by. She stopped, and came over. A darting glance of recognition for her Uncle Anthony, then eyes down again. In her two weeks Alison Whitford had received the basic instructions, as signified by her pink belt. She knew now humility and also some other things. She was a very pretty girl, soft and innocent features with blonde curls beneath the odd but rather flattering hat. A tall girl and under that enveloping robe a shapely one: Anthony Whitford had seen her with a fashionable tight skirt over her ripish bottom, also indeed in a revealing bikini. But that was before she had decided to come to St Ethelberga’s. For a period at least, perhaps then permanently?
Mr Whitford could have a short period in private with his niece and Father James led them to one of the reception rooms. A short period only because too much contact with the outside world could undo all the work that had been done with her. She was a very pretty girl and naturally Father James hoped she would decide — or could be persuaded — to stay with them. He wondered again about what he had found in St Martha’s Retreat; what indeed was still secreted in his cassock. Did the girl perhaps not now have any…?
It was probably Brother Oswald, a before-practice session with her. Brother Oswald, he had noticed, was very keen on instructing the new postulant. As indeed were Brother Gregory and Brother Bernard. She was a very lovely girl. Father James himself…
Anthony Whitford was not the only one who knew how shapely Alison was beneath that enveloping white habit.
----//----
He collected her 20 minutes later. A polite farewell to the visitor with the equally polite hope expressed that they might see him again soon. But it could not be very soon and both Alison and Anthony Whitford knew this. Girls must not have frequent distraction from their tuition and devotions. Mr Whitford drove off. Alison was left alone with Father James. He smiled at her. She was such a lovely girl and at that marvellous age, just blooming into womanhood. They had been fortunate to get her.
His arm slipped round the slim waist. Alison shivered. Seeing Uncle Anthony had had an unsettling effect. Her first contact with the outside in her two weeks here. Two weeks of necessarily traumatic introduction to the ways of St Ethelberga. Two weeks of Brother Oswald, Brother Gregory, Brother Bernard and Brother Simon. Not to mention Father James himself. She shivered as his hand slid down onto the swell of her buttocks.
‘Am I correct in believing you are at present without an undergarment, my child?’
Her knickers. Which Brother Oswald had taken off in St Martha’s although there had not really been time before choir practice or at least there hadn’t been time because he had gone on for too long. So that when the bell sounded there had been an unseemly rush and Alison had been bundled out with her brief white knickers still lying on the sofa. She had realised almost at once but there was nothing to be done. It was of course a sin for a girl to be in chapel without knickers. It was certainly also a sin for her to sit for 20 minutes with her male visitor without knickers.
Father James’ hand as he stood with her in the reception room was indulgently exploring the ripe curves of Alison’s bottom through the single layer of fine white wool. It was quite clear that there were not knickers, that she was nude underneath. Alison breathed a nervous ‘Yes Father James’ in answer to his question.
The hand continued to rove — and indeed grope. ‘I… was doing a devotion… with Brother Oswald. Just… before… choir practice…’
The hand left her rear and came  round to her flank. Where there was a convenient placket in the skirt of the cassock, an opening fastened with hooks and eyes. Practised fingers unfastened the closure. Father James’ hand entered, to find soft warm flesh. Yes, there were certainly no knickers. There was the side strap of the suspender belt fastening her stockings but otherwise only warm nude flesh. The hand slid round to the ripeness of her bottom again, but this time on the bare. Alison stood still, legs slightly apart as she had been taught, while her breathing quickened. A girl’s body was a sinful thing and at St Ethelberga’s it was not her own to do with as she chose. A girl stood with her legs parted in the presence of an instructor because she must have no false modesty or ideas of privacy about what was not hers but St Ethelberga’s.
‘You have as you know committed a sin, my child.’ Father James’ voice quiet and gentle, not berating her, merely stating the fact. But it was equally a fact, Alison knew, that she would be made to do another devotion to expiate that sin. Maybe a series of devotions. Her breathing coming faster now as Father James’ hand slid down from the cheeks of her bottom and into the arch of her thighs. To her most sinful place. Where the touch of skilful fingers could make any nun respond sinfully: those who had been with St Ethelberga for some years but perhaps even more a young and inexperienced postulant. Make her produce that sinful twitching and shuddering. Make her produce the sinful wetness.
Alison could of course plead that it had been Brother Oswald who had made her leave her knickers in St Martha’s. But to plead that in order to place the sin on Brother Oswald would be a sin in itself. Sin was unfortunately everywhere and life at St Ethelberga’s could seem at times no more than one long succession of devotions to expiate these sins. The joyful singing in choir was always a release. And today there had also been the visit of Uncle Anthony; though this had been bittersweet at best with its sharp reminder of the outside world Alison had left. But now…
She bit her lip… and tried to quell the urgings of her hips. Father James’ voice soft in her ear. ‘St Martha’s, Alison. I think we must pay a return visit to that sainted Lady.’

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