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Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Whips & Scorns of Time

Story by Julie Holmes from Janus 115
She fingers the street nameplate with trepidation. WHIPPING POST LANE the sign declares: an incongruously modern, municipal sign in a village whose cottages and traditions date back for centuries. At least there can be no doubt about her having found the right address: it is hardly a common street-name. Nor is it subtle. How many ribald jokes have been made by unsuspecting tourists as they stumbled upon this little gem during a summer stroll through the picturesque community?
More to the point, how many other people have stood on this spot, touching the sign, steeling themselves to keep an appointment not entirely of their choosing? Have they marched purposefully to the designated cottage and struck confidently upon its door? Have they treated the occasion as just another business appointment to be kept between conversations on mobile telephones? Or have they shuffled resignedly along the lane, biting their lip and willing a speedy conclusion to the event?
Daniella has lived and worked in the nearby town for all of her twenty-two years. She has visited this quaint village by bus, bike and foot on numerous occasions. Yet this is the first time she has noticed the oddly-named turning. She needed a map to locate it although it leads directly from the busy main street containing the tea rooms and souvenir shops so beloved of day-trippers. Perhaps it does not really exist; maybe it is simply a figment of her imagination, conjured up by misplaced feelings of guilt. Her fingers skim the top of the sign again: it certainly feels real, which means that the rest of her mission is probably equally authentic and she had better get on with it.
She takes one step forward, then balks. Not defiance as such, just a need for a moment’s contemplation whilst she gathers her resolve. She cannot back out, but she is not ready yet to submit. She turns back to the relative bustle of the high street, where a visit to the corner shop for a bar of chocolate and a detour to the bakery for a comforting bun provide a temporary diversion. She studies her watch as if deciphering a particularly tricky code: there are ten minutes before she has to present herself at the cottage. To be early might count in her favour; to be late will definitely go against her; but to be exactly on time will surely be to her credit?
Ducks paddle idly about on the pond, waiting for the scraps of doughnut or bread that they have learned all passers-by eventually toss their way. Especially this sort: the female ones who visit in great numbers, but singly and usually only once each. They habitually sit by the pond, staring at its untended surface, pouting with downcast eyes and glancing periodically at their watches. The ducks see three or four of them a day, but they never see each other. Some strange human ritual, no doubt. Sometimes they are adorned like this one, with short skirts and knee-high boots; little fluffy jumpers that expose a bit of midriff. Their hair billows loose about their shoulders. Others wear tight jeans and baggy tops and their hair is cropped short. Some have dark suits, high heels and wind their hair into efficient knots. They all sit for ten or fifteen minutes, nibbling absent-mindedly at their cakes and sandwiches and breaking off chunks to throw into the water. It is never clear whether these humans consciously feed the ducks or simply hurl surplus food in their direction in supplication to some imagined water spirit. The ducks don’t care: they simply gather up the offerings, whoever they were intended for.
Daniella Hawkes does not know that she is one of many; the third of four that day; the tenth out of a probable eighteen that week. For her, the experience is unique. She crumbles the remainder of the cake into the water and walks back to the lane. Whipping Post Lane. She touches the sign once more — how convenient that the local corporation should deem to mount it on low posts so that it free-stands at just the right height for Daniella and her counterparts to ritually stroke it, talisman-like, before embarking on their ordeal!
Shoulders back, head high, one hand gripping her tiny, non-functional shoulder-bag, she strides with false confidence down the lane towards the cottage. The House of Correction. The Penitentiary. Every young woman who visits the cottage has their own name for it. All the names mean the same thing: The House Where I Will Be Chastised.
Its picture-postcard appearance belies its true nature: the prolific gaudy flowers have the carelessly well-tended look that is the hallmark of English country gardens. The house itself is well-maintained, hinting — to those who know about such things — at the ethos of discipline to be found within. Perfect, calm, inviting: like the deceptive gingerbread cottage of the fairy tales and with an even worse fate in store for those who dare to enter the arched doorway.
Daniella raises the knocker and raps twice. The sound is loud, uncouth. She waits. Checks her watch. Knocks again after a couple of minutes. When the door finally opens, she notices it is exactly — to the second — the appointed time. Would it have swung back at this precise moment even if she had not announced her presence? Was her punctuality presumed?
The man is dapper: late middle-age to early elderly; dressed formally in a suit and shirt and tie; classic shoes shining and laced. No slovenly casuals or house slippers. He means business. Saying nothing, he looks coolly into her eyes and waits for her to state her mission.
Her last chance. She could turn and leave; catch the next train back to town; tell her lover she couldn’t find the cottage; or not see her lover at all. She hesitates for a moment, then respectfully gives her name. Her host responds only by stepping aside and Daniella wipes her shoes briskly on the doormat and enters. The man leads her through a narrow, badly-lit hallway into a cosy, chintzy living room. His partner greets her. A matronly woman, dressed smartly but not ostentatiously, a sympathetic smile playing about her unmade-up features.
Daniella feels frivolous and foolish. She had simply been told to dress ‘comfortably’ and so she had chosen the fashionable pink lace-up boots, flattering chequered skater’s skirt and pale blue angora sweater. Her reflection in the mirror before she left home and in shop windows ever since told her she looked stunning; the appreciative stares and whistles from passing males had confirmed this; yet now she feels like a common shop-girl in her disposable Saturday-night outfit and blushes at the image. She has a wardrobe of classy, business-like suits that she could have chosen from, a collection of formal social wear, yet she has turned up looking like the ultimate bimbo. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) her nervousness, her mind wanders through the variations she could have worn to make a better impression.
But it is too late now to undo the image she has created. She sighs, hands clasping her bag nervously in front of her. The couple seem welcoming, as though she has accepted an invitation to afternoon tea. The three stand in the tranquil room in silence, smiling to one another, acknowledging the strangeness of the situation but accepting it nonetheless.
Finally, the woman speaks.
‘I expect you’re finding this all a bit unusual, dear. Not to worry. We’ll soon sort out your little problem.’
Daniella smiles in feigned comprehension.
‘Lots of young women get confused. Mr Grimes and me — well, we help them get back on track, as you might say.’
Another round of smiles.
‘Generations of my folks have seen generations of those such as you pass through this very cottage,’ Mr Grimes finally contributes. ‘Of course, originally, the whipping post was out in the lane itself. But these days, I don’t think many people would take to our business being conducted in public.’ He sounds puzzled by this modern idiosyncratic attitude.
‘He can trace his origins back to Shakespeare’s time,’ Mrs Grimes expands. ‘Course, this isn’t the original cottage; it only goes back to the seventeen-hundreds; but there was always one on this exact spot and it was always occupied by the Village Whipper.’
As she folds her arms across her full bosom, her husband takes up the account. ‘Right back to the First Elizabeth, possibly beyond her. Mind you, in those days it was a real whipping you got; in public, stripped to the waist whether you were male or female and then left on show for the afternoon. Don’t worry,’ he adds consolingly as he notices her chewing her own lower lip, ‘it’s all a bit more civilised and discreet these days. Just me and the missus.’
‘The missus’ smiles benignly then, as if that very phrase was the cue she had been waiting for, she indicates the action is about to begin with a flurry of rolled-up sleeves and bustling activity. ‘Come along, dear, into the next room. Let’s get you sorted out.’
The man (the ‘Village Whipper’) stays where he is, as though he has some minor domestic chore (changing a light bulb perhaps) to perform. The two women go into a room that could be as cosy as the first, only the furniture has been partially removed, as if in preparation for a party.
‘Tradition,’ the older woman says, handing Daniella what appears to be a bundle of plain white cotton. A swift exploration, however, reveals a simple shift. Even as the matron tells her to put it on, Daniella finds her hands already raising her pretty top over her head and unbuttoning her skirt. She hesitates about her underwear, but is not surprised to be told to remove the lacy wisps. And the boots (and the little socks she wears for comfort).
The shift resembles a hospital gown: billowing, ill-fitting, with long sleeves and tie-ups at inappropriate points down the back. The material feels as if it has been laundered many times.
‘We’re ready, Mr Grimes,’ Mrs Grimes calls cheerily and a heavy tread approaches in response. From the corner of the room she is fetching what Daniella had presumed to be a redundant plant stand. Placed in the centre of the room, she can see it could serve that purpose, but will not be used in such a capacity just now (or at all in the near future).
‘Of course, it’s purely symbolic.’ Mr Grimes informs her. ‘Not like the old days when you’d have been chained up to it.’ His voice carries a hint of wistfulness for those times long past.
‘Now, you just kneel down there and place your hands on top of the post and make sure they stay there,’ Mrs Grimes coos, reminding Daniella of a dance teacher she used to have. She takes up the position and immediately the mood in the room changes. It seems the temperature has suddenly dropped; the avuncular gent and his housewifely mate are instantly stern; a mixture of humility and fear runs through her veins; she can hear her own breathing.
‘Daniella Hawkes,’ an authoritative male voice booms (surely not from that nice old man who was here just a moment ago?). ‘You have been sent to the house of the Village Whipper for chastisement earned as a result of slovenliness, dishonesty and immodest behaviour. That you have agreed to the whipping is taken as acknowledgement of the truth of these allegations. You will therefore receive appropriate punishment, with evidence supplied for the complainant, after which you will be free to leave and considered to have made full reparation.’
A tear rolls down her left cheek. All she had intended was to borrow £50 from the petty cash tin to buy some clothes on her way home and then to put the money back the next day after she had been to the bank to draw it out. Her boss, the local solicitor, had been looking for something trivial like a rubber band or a stapler and was complaining about the state of her desk when he noticed the open cash-box. Daniella had tried to explain the situation and, as she and Martin Urmston generally got along so well, she had flirted slightly and insinuated that she was buying a sexy outfit to wear to the office for his benefit.
And, somehow, he had contrived this little scene as an alternative to instant dismissal and a lousy reference for at least six months. It seems the Grimes’ ‘personal service’ is well-known but undocumented throughout the county amongst those of certain families and professions.
She shudders.
Mrs Grimes undoes the knots she has so recently tied down her back and the gown falls open lewdly and unbecomingly. She starts to edge forward so that she can lean against the post and have the garment pressed in place to protect her modesty but Mrs Grimes re-positions her without comment. As the cotton sags forward, Daniella blushes at the knowledge that her breasts are clearly exposed to anyone standing over her. Mr Grimes, however, seems immune to her conventional charms and has eyes only for the exposed, flawless, honey-toned flesh of her back. He takes up his position behind her, takes stock of the target and aims the first stroke.
The martinet swings down and finds its home between the parted fabric of the shift. Instantly, a network of pink lines appears. The blow was not unduly hard, the thongs not unnecessarily vicious, but Daniella weeps with the confused trepidation of a maltreated puppy. Already she feels she has been punished enough. She has suffered anxiety in her journey to this anachronistic world; humiliation in exposing herself physically, emotionally and morally to the homely couple and physical discomfort at the hands of a professional disciplinarian.
The legacy of the martinet is nibbling deeper into her skin. She tells herself there should be no more: the cruel flail has several strands and surely one stroke from that must be the equivalent of at least ten from a single-tailed whip? She tries to make her voice relay this argument, but no sound emerges and Mr Grimes has already drawn back his arm.
Again the leather cords bite, snapping to free themselves from the short handle that steers them; harder this time, the fine pink tracery becoming red. The original stroke might never have occurred: this one brings new, unique sensations that obliterate anything that has gone before. Daniella groans and cries, her body twisting about the post, modesty no longer an issue.
The third stroke is perfectly vertical and leaves a mark like cats’ claws down and beside her spine. Daniella feels a cold swat upon impact then the pricking of a thousand red-hot pinpricks assails her. She grasps the post desperately, bouncing on her knees in an effort to control the pain.
She strives to be good. Her hands are on top of the whipping post as decreed. She has not tried to evade the whip or cover her back. But she cries pitifully and hunches over in abject misery.
Another four blows leave her back a glowing scarlet, with individual lines now hard to identify. The heat soaks into her, chased by cold nips, as though an ice fairy is dancing amongst the filigree.
Her hosts are moving behind her, making further preparations. She is hoping her ordeal is at an end, but doubts it.
‘Stand up, Daniella,’ Mrs Grimes says, no longer jovial.
Daniella stands. Mrs Grimes refastens the ties above her waist and loosens the ones lower down.
‘Bend over the post and grab its base; you’ll have to stretch your legs out behind you to balance,’ the older woman states in a manner that tells Daniella this is a common occurrence in this house. She does as she is told and is neither surprised nor embarrassed as the skirt of the shift falls forward, exposing her thighs, bottom and that still more private area. She just wants it all to be over. Even tears are beyond her now.
This time, Mr Grimes has selected a tawse: a narrow but heavy leather, two-tailed implement that never fails to impart a meaningful lesson to miscreants such as Daniella. He can tell that she has never been punished in this way before — but hopes she may be again. One of the greatest disappointments in his life is that he is so competent at his job that few of those sent to him ever re-offend and have to return.
The tawse travels slowly through the air and impacts hard, making Daniella lurch forward and struggle to retain the prescribed position. Two voices ‘tut’ as one behind her. Mrs Grimes takes the watch from Daniella’s wrist and places it on the floor directly in her line of vision.
‘Mr Grimes is going to whip you for exactly one minute: there is no way to know how many strokes that will involve, but we promise it will be thorough and your lesson will be learned. Your behaviour towards Mr Urmston was despicable and if you want to regain his respect, you had better take your punishment in a more seemly manner than you have so far. Such carryings on! We’ll have no tears this time, if you please.’
With her speech duly delivered, she nods towards her husband and the punishment begins. The discomfort in Daniella’s back is totally forgotten as the strap strikes over and over, raising a fire in her buttocks that has her bucking and squealing — but not crying. There are no tears falling this time from her screwed-up eyes; just pleadings wrenching free of her tightened throat. Her bottom turns red, mauve, purple, white as the blows rain down. The shift tangles in the wake of her writhings, exposing her belly and breasts to the hard surface of the post.
There has never been a minute that lasted so long. Impossible to count the number of times the leather strap lams into her. Each time it lands it drives her pelvis lecherously into the whipping post as if stressing the heinous nature of her attempted seduction of Mr Urmston. Her back arches and her head draws back as the tawse abandons her buttocks and instead seeks out the so far untouched flesh of her thighs. Despite the danger to her balance, her legs scissor open and shut, open and shut as she screeches her distress.
The forked tongue licks her rapidly from hips to knees, allowing her no time to recover from individual blows before others are imparted. Daniella cannot count them, cannot judge how many she must endure before her time is up. If she did not have the evidence of her own watch before her eyes, she would suspect Mr Grimes of exceeding his allotted period several times over. She fixes her gaze on the digital counter and sees the final seconds slowly creep away.
This time the punishment is definitely over. Merriment again twinkles in Mrs Grimes’ eyes. Daniella dresses herself reluctantly and with difficulty, even the soft angora feeling like sandpaper against her scourged back.
She has to walk back to work; that was part of the stipulated punishment. She had not understood why, but now she does. It is five miles to the town centre: not a great distance in some circumstances, and she has not been set a deadline. But she must still bear the evidence of a sound whipping when she presents herself to her employer or he will make her return for a further session.
The air is heavy with early-summer warmth and her body is fatigued from her encounter with the Village Whipper and his spouse. Her short skirt, so flattering less than an hour ago, will now expose her shame to any that glance her way. As she hurries up the lane to the main road, chafed by her panties, skirt and jumper, she can feel more weals rising on her skin, all the time seeming to move lower down her thighs towards her boot-tops. She rushes towards the office like a villain seeking undeserved but certain sanctuary, hoping that once he is satisfied that retribution has been exacted, Martin Urmston will take pity and allow her to go home and recover.
In his office, Martin Urmston impatiently awaits the return of his errant secretary. He is imagining the hue and texture of her punished flesh and is anxious to examine it to ensure the Village Whipper has not shirked in his duty. If he is satisfied with the results, he has further plans for Miss Hawkes’ nubile form.

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