Story from Fessée 7 by Matthew Silk
The tinkling bells on the front door shattered the peace of the little antique shop where Arthur Sullivan was reading a book — Art at Auction. He glanced up at the nearest clock among the many which surrounded him. Four o’clock and his first customer of the afternoon.
He looked over his pince-nez to see who this rare visitor was and immediately closed his book. It was her — back again for the fourth time in a fortnight.
She was blonde, slim and pretty and he guessed she was one of the young wives from the new estate on the edge of the village where he had recently given one of his lectures. She was dressed simply in a flowered summer frock with straps over her bare shoulders. As she closed the door she gave him a quick, almost guilty, glance.
He smiled and began polishing a pair of brass candlesticks while secretly watching her progress in her soft plimsolls as she walked round the shop.
She pretended to be interested in several items, picking them up and examining them, but she didn’t fool him. He knew she had come back to look at one thing — the same thing she had looked at on each previous visit — the Victorian umbrella stand in the corner stacked with canes.
On her first visit she simply looked at the canes and crops he stored there, not daring to touch them. The second time she actually picked one cane up and examined its silver-capped handle. She seemed about to ask him a question when her courage failed her and she fled. On the third visit, a couple of days ago, she stayed in the shop a lot longer and ended up at the umbrella stand twice but moved away each time another customer came in. Now she was back again, hovering, examining, edging her way round to the corner where the umbrella stand stood.
Arthur opened his shop in the tiny village three years ago. He did not advertise his interest in CP but it was surprising how quickly fellow enthusiasts found him. The dedicated could always discover at least one classic Victorian flagellation novel on his dusty bookshelves or an erotic lithograph of a domestic discipline scene tucked away among the prints. And for the true regulars, perhaps half a dozen, he would always take orders.
He kept the canes as the one openly visible sign of interest. He liked to see the young couples giggling as they examined a yellow rattan or the reaction of men dreaming half-embarrassed dreams. It made him laugh and it made him sad. So many thoughts of if only… passed across the faces of the browsers.
From a young boy Arthur was convinced he had been born into the wrong age. Once he had discovered the Victorian era he was fascinated by every aspect of it. He studied History through school and went on to specialise in the Victorians at university.
His encyclopaedic knowledge made it inevitable that he would pursue his interest through his career. It had been his dream to own his own antique shop one day but it had taken him until a few years ago, in his middle age, to save enough capital.
Customers were few and far between but Arthur did not mind. He was not in the business to make a vast profit. His real interest lay in keeping the spirit of the Victorian age alive and the longer he lived in the confused, selfish, decadent, ill-disciplined twentieth century, the brighter shone the beacon of reason and ideals from the Victorian era.
The young woman had now edged her way round to the umbrella stand once more. She stopped, hesitated, then quickly darted her hand forward fingering the leather handle of the cane with the silver tip end. She replaced it in the stand and was about to flee again when he made his move.
‘It is a relic of Victorian domestic discipline,’ Arthur said quietly in her ear.
She jumped. He was close behind her leaning forward to pick up the cane. She looked as startled as a shoplifter caught red-handed by a store detective. Arthur ignored her embarrassment and held the cane in front of her so she could see its full length.
‘This is a particularly fine example of craftsmanship. Whoever had it made obviously went to a great deal of trouble,’ so saying he bent the cane between his hands demonstrating its continued supple springiness.
‘I think this shows two things,’ he continued. ‘Firstly the importance the Victorian family man put on maintaining discipline in his home and secondly that a cane like this would be intended for regular use over a period of several years.’ He smiled at her. She was still blushing guiltily at being caught showing an interest.
But Arthur was warming to his favourite subject and was encouraged by the fact that she was making no effort to leave.
‘It was probably made in this village for a local household. Canes were often used on servants but were also kept for wives.’
‘Wives?’ She spoke for the first time still looking away from him.
‘Oh yes, the Victorians were much less guilt-ridden about corporal punishment than we are today. They were able to accept it as a part of everyday life. They simply didn’t have the hang-ups we have invented for ourselves in the twentieth century with all our pseudo-psychology.’
He paused but she did not stop him. Indeed she seemed interested in hearing more.
‘For instance, take The Times of April 6 1855 commenting on a fine of £5 for a lady called Emilie Gordon for thrashing her horses too excitedly. It suggested that instead of a fine she should be sent to prison and given ‘a few private whippings by the stoutest woman in Hampshire.’
‘Can you imagine The Times advocating anything like that today? There would be uproar. But the Victorians saw no problems with the caning and whipping of adults, including women, if they deserved it. It is only in the twentieth century, and only in the West, that we have come to believe that there is something odd in people who believe in administering — and receiving — corporal punishment.’
‘Was it common, then, for wives to be… you know… er…’ she couldn’t finish the sentence.
‘Thrashed?’ He finished it for her. ‘Yes,’ she replied quietly.
‘Hard to say. But there is a lot of evidence in diaries and unpublished journals that many wives were whipped, or more likely birched.’
‘Gosh,’ she said. ‘They really were kinky then.’
‘No, not really. The Victorians, you know, had none of the problems we have with pleasure and pain. They would have found it absurd that anyone would have found pleasure in pain. A good caning hurt, they understood that. It was meant to. At the same time words like sadism and masochism with their sexual connotations simply did not exist in their vocabulary. The twentieth century invented those words and now any kind of infliction of pain, especially as punishment, is labelled sadistic. And because punishment to be effective invariably involves pain to some degree we have found ourselves barely able to punish. That’s why we have all these soft sentences today. The odd thing is we have created far more confusion and guilt complexes because we have failed to understand, as the Victorians understood, that some people need, indeed want punishment to help them distinguish between right and wrong. There is plenty of evidence from private diaries that Victorian wives who were thrashed when they played up respected their husbands far more for whipping them and were far happier themselves. That has nothing to do with sadism.’
He paused and smiled. ‘I’m afraid you have got me on my hobby horse, I tend to get carried away. I feel very passionately about the Victorians. I feel we malign them. We are far more sexually repressed than we think. We like to think of ourselves as living in an age of sexual freedom. In fact we are hopelessly constrained by our own moral and sexual prurience. We think we know ourselves much better because of all our clever psychological theories.
‘In fact the pseudo-psychology operates like a strait jacket. Anything which deviates slightly from the normal is regarded as a suitable case for treatment. We run away from most of our problems by trying to explain them. The Victorians with their birch and canes had a far more practical approach and those wives appreciated it. I love the Victorian age — that’s why I run this shop and give my lectures.’
‘I know’, she said. ‘I’ve got a confession to make.’
He raised an eyebrow.
‘I’ve been to one of your lectures.’
So, as he thought all along, she wasn’t just a casual browser in his shop but had been coming for some purpose. But what?
‘Which lecture did you come to see,’ he asked.
‘The Victorian marriage and household. You talked then about discipline in the home.’
‘Ah yes, the servants.’
‘And the wives,’ she whispered.
‘Yes, certainly, the wives as well. From the private diaries I just mentioned.’
‘That’s right. You said that in the Victorian household wives could expect to be thrashed. I remember everyone laughed.’
‘Yes,’ he said with a frown remembering his disapproval at the immature giggling among the audience.
‘What I wanted to know was… what I came here to ask was… what a wife might be caned for.’ She turned and looked at him for the first time and he noticed she had beautiful blue eyes. She was no older than her mid-twenties and very fair-skinned.
‘Well,’ he hesitated, unsure where this conversation was leading, ‘Neglect of duties, insubordination, carelessness, petulance, causing a scandal, that type of thing.’
‘Causing a scandal? What, like having an affair you mean?’ she suddenly seemed very nervous.
‘Yes, a Victorian man would obviously very much disapprove of any impropriety like that. He would take the most serious view of his wife even flirting with another man.’
‘You mean a wife could expect a severe whipping if she was in any way unfaithful?’ She was almost trembling yet seemed driven by a determination to have her questions answered.
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘A wife could expect the severest punishment for disloyalty.’
‘How many strokes would having an affair merit, do you think? Say on a young wife, about my age, who like me had been married for only just two years and who still loved her husband dearly.’
He looked at her carefully. He could sense his reply was going to be very important for her.
‘Twenty-four strokes, I would say. That was an average number for a really serious offence,’ he replied honestly.
She bit her lip. ‘As many as that? Even though it was the first time she had been unfaithful and it was only a one-night stand?’
Suddenly, as if a dam had burst within her, she began to talk rapidly, the words pouring out.
‘What if the wife had just gone out once with someone at the office where she worked when her husband was away on one of his frequent trips abroad and she was lonely and she had a little bit too much to drink and had rather stupidly gone to a party with this work colleague and things had gone too far…. And what if she knew that if she told her husband he wouldn’t spank her silly little bottom like she deserved? What if this wasn’t the Victorian age when she could look forward to a deserved thrashing and then got on with her marriage but 100 years later when her husband would never dream of caning her but would be dreadfully hurt if she told him the truth about what happened? What could a young wife like that do?’
‘You’re right,’ she said with sudden anger. ‘It was easier for the Victorians. They didn’t have to live with this terrible guilt.’ She seemed on the point of bursting into tears. Taking a deep breath she continued in a quiet voice. ‘What if she loved her husband too much to tell him? Couldn’t the twentieth century wife go to a man who lived nearby who was interested in the Victorian age and how Victorian wives were punished? Would he do that as a favour to her do you think so that she could solve her dilemma and save her marriage?’ Her blue eyes were full of pleading.
‘Yes,’ he replied quietly. ‘If that was what she wanted.’ She drew the cane quickly out of the umbrella stand and placed it firmly in his hands.
‘It is,’ she whispered urgently. ‘My husband will not be back until the end of next week. He will never know. Cane me here, now, this afternoon, please.’
He took the cane from her and moved swiftly to lock the front door and turn the sign to ‘closed.’ Then he guided her up the back stairs of the three-storey building to the top floor. There were two locked rooms facing each other on the tiny landing. He unlocked the right-hand door and opened it for her to walk in.
The room was bare except for a chaise longue with a large cushion on the floor and a large gilt over-mantel mirror propped up against the wall. Built into the alcoves were two glass-fronted bookcases containing his private collection of leather-bound flagellation erotica. Hung on the white walls were various lithographs of domestic scenes.
She fidgeted as she looked around nervously. Everything in the room even the lamps and the long drape curtains were Victorian. It was if they had stepped back in time.
‘Take off your dress,’ he ordered crisply. She slipped the light cotton over her head. Underneath she was wearing only a pair of white briefs.
‘Have you ever been caned before?’ he asked.
‘No, never,’ she replied truthfully.
‘Kneel down on the cushion and lie along the chaise longue.’
She obeyed, placing her arms in front of her and taking hold of the walnut support beneath the velvet seat of the chaise. She rested with the left side of her face to the velvet looking at the mirror where she could see herself stretched out. Seeing herself, she realised the room had been furnished specifically for punishment and she was suddenly aware that others had knelt where she was now kneeling on the cushion. She found the thought strangely comforting knowing that others had experienced the same gnawing nervousness in their stomachs as they knelt for punishment. They, like her, were time travellers to a previous age, finding some escape from the confusion of the twentieth century by entering the locked punishment room with Arthur as their guide. In the far corner of the room she saw another umbrella stand stacked with canes and crops.
She watched Arthur as he reached forward and slipped her briefs down her thighs, flicking them over her ankles so that she was quite bare. He looked at her young back tapering down to the two firm white cheeks of her bottom waiting submissively for the cane. He was aware of her eyes watching his every move in the mirror as he measured the length of the cane to her buttocks. When he was satisfied he looked at her in the mirror.
‘You will remain in position at all times, counting out the number of strokes after every six only. In other words when you have received six, 12, 18 and 24. You will call me Sir at all times during the punishment. Is that understood?
‘Very good. Now arch your back and push your bottom out as far as you can.’ She complied, her pale unblemished buttocks swelling and opening into a round inviting target.
He steadied the cane behind her, once more catching her eyes in the mirror. She was now focussing intently on the cane as it hovered inches from her cheek.
‘You do not have to look if you don’t want to,’ he said quietly.
‘I would prefer to watch as part of my punishment, sir.’
‘Very well. By the way, what is your name?’
‘Victoria… naaargh!’ She cried out as the cane whipped down landing with a fierce smack which sounded like a pistol crack in the bare room.
‘Actually, nobody has ever called me Victoria I’ve always been known as Vicky… yeeeh!…’ A second time the cane rebounded like a recoiling spring from her firm flesh. To her credit she kept herself perfectly in position to receive its impact even as she watched it descend.
He sensed that she wanted to talk perhaps to take her mind off the stinging pain.
‘And where exactly do you live on the estate?’
‘Beaumont Roa… oahwoad.’ She wailed as the cane swished down for the third time.
It seemed odd to be holding a polite conversation with this woman who was a virtual stranger whilst thrashing her backside. Yet talking like this was strangely comforting to both of them, as if it made what they were doing the most normal thing in the world.
‘And how long have you lived there?’
‘Two years. Since we were marri… eed!’ she cried. The fiery pain was now becoming too hot for her to remain still as she fought to resist the cane.
‘And what is the job you mentioned you do?’
She was still trying to compose herself before she answered. He waited.
‘I’m a sec… heck!… retary’ she yelped.
He looked at her in the mirror. Her face was flushed and he saw the first signs of tears welling in her eyes but she was still bravely arching her back and pushing her bottom out as far as she could behind her.
He stopped asking her questions, concentrating instead on delivering each stroke square across her beckoning rear.
‘Six sir,’ she announced calmly and he realised that despite her cries he had barely dented her composure.
He took up the cane once more and they did not speak again. By the time she called ‘twelve sir,’ her buttocks were squirming and dancing to the tune of his cane. When she cried out ‘18 sir,’ her voice was choking and tears were running down her face and dropping onto the Persian rug on the floor. Her knees had sagged backwards and slid sideways so that she was no longer knelt over the end of the chaise but sprawled open-legged on it.
‘You can stop the caning any time you want, you know. The choice is yours,’ he said. He was aware that it was a choice a Victorian wife would not have had the luxury of receiving.
‘No, please carry on. I must go through with it, I owe that at least to my husband. If I cannot ask his forgiveness at least I can prove to myself that I still love him. I can’t explain but give me the last six, please.’
He nodded. She turned her head away from the mirror for the first time and looked straight ahead of her. The cane whistled down on its agonising arc. She let out a piercing cry her last pretence at resistance stripped away. The cane no longer seemed to spring back from her firm cheeks but clung to the soft under-curves of her buttocks as she absorbed the pain it brought along with the redemption she was seeking.
‘24 sir,’ she cried out at last sliding fully off the chaise and onto the floor.
He left her alone as she examined her stripes in the mirror and waited for her downstairs. It was more than 15 minutes before she joined him. She looked even more attractive now she was relaxed and the tension had drained from her. ‘Still stinging?’ he asked.
‘Like hell!’ she said with a rueful smile rubbing her palm over her still hot bottom. ‘But thank you, I got what I asked for.’
‘You took it well.’
‘Thank you,’ she blushed.
He looked at her carefully, measuring his words. ‘Now how would you like to be caned again, in exactly the same way?’
‘What?’ She could not believe she had heard him properly. He couldn’t mean it.
‘Let me explain. You came to me for punishment, remember? You asked me to cane you as a favour. You owe it to me to at least listen.’
‘Alright,’ she agreed, still shocked.
‘As well as running this shop and giving my lectures on Victorian life I also run a small Victorian Society for a select group of people with a particular interest in the erotic and sexual side of physical discipline. When I told you earlier that the Victorians would find no pleasure in pain that was only half-true. The Victorians believed in discipline but they were also very aware of the eroticism of corporal punishment and the sexual pleasure which could be derived from it. But unlike us they believed the two were entirely separate.’
‘In our Victorian Society we celebrate this other aspect of Victorian life to which they were so enthusiastically addicted. We concentrate on antique fairs and antiquarian bookshops searching for accounts and unpublished diaries by those men and women who enjoyed the sexual pleasures and fulfilment of submission and erotic discipline.’
‘And upstairs in the punishment room, where you have just been so delightfully caned, we re-enact passages from the journals we find. Our lady members eagerly and willingly present themselves before the society to receive the cane or the birch or the whip purely for pleasure and the general entertainment of members.’
Vicky suddenly saw a vision of herself once more stretched along the chaise in front of the mirror with her buttocks bared and pointing up to the poised cane held by Arthur. But this time they were ringed by a group of men and women dressed in Victorian clothes quietly and passively watching her. The vision of her humiliation brought the tingling heat back to the stripes across her bottom as if the cane had just struck.
‘Your caning will be written down, every stroke recorded in detail in our society journal which chronicles our meeting,’ Arthur continued. He lifted a thick leather-bound book from beneath the counter. ‘Written here are the accounts of our previous meetings and the descriptions of the punishments with the names of the victims, the number of strokes etc. In 100 years’ time readers will be able to read and re-live the accounts of your punishment, and enjoy it with us as if they were in the room just as we enjoy the journals of the wives we find. This is how you can repay my favour. I shall let you know when the meeting is.’
It was a fortnight later when her husband was away that the card dropped through her door. Opening it she read:The Victorian Society requests the pleasure of your company tonight at Sullivan’s Antiques at 8pm.