Castlebridge Hall Conspiracies (Part Three)
Castlebridge Hall Conspiracies (Part Three)
The following morning Victoria stood miserably in the corridor outside the imposing door to Lord Castlebridge’s study. She was dressed only in her knickers and chemise and shivering for it was cold out in the corridor and the polished wooden parquet was chill beneath her bare feet. She was hungry too for she had yet to eat any breakfast. Lord Castlebridge’s instructions had been explicit however. She was to report to him in his study in her underwear before breakfast. His Lordship wished to weigh her for he was of the opinion that she’d been putting on too much weight of late so this further humiliation was imposed upon her.
Victoria had rushed here as soon as she had finished her morning toilet and had fervently hoped that Lord Castlebridge would attend to her immediately. It had proved a futile hope. She had arrived at the study at just the moment that one of the maids had been in the act of delivering Lord Castlebridge’s own morning repast which he was wont, on Saturday mornings, to take in the privacy of his own study. His Lordship would attend to Victoria once he had broken his fast the maid had informed her. Victoria must needs wait.
For over twenty minutes therefore Victoria had waited in growing discomfort beside the intimidating portal to His Lordship’s inner sanctum and she was thoroughly unhappy about it. It was, as has been mentioned, chilly in the outer corridor and, in her flimsy underwear, Victoria squirmed and wrapped her arms about her, hopping from foot to foot, in misery. But it was not only the temperature that was the cause of her discomfort. Whilst stood outside His Lordship’s office Victoria was subject to the scrutiny of half the staff in the Hall it seemed. Victoria did not know whether it was just that this particular corridor was a usually busy thoroughfare in the Hall or whether her smirking colleagues were simply making a deliberate detour to avail themselves of the chance to peruse the Hall’s newcomer in her underwear kicking her heels at His Lordship’s door. Whatever the reason, Victoria’s public humiliation was by now pretty much the talk of the Hall and she blushed crimson with embarrassment with every passing person.
It was not only the frilly little French knickers and matching chemise that made Victoria such a diverting spectacle to the passing observers. It was common knowledge among the servants in the Hall that Victoria had been caned the night before and the evidence of that caning was plain to see in the bruising still visible across the back of her upper thighs beneath the hem of her knickers. Indeed Victoria was still squirming uncomfortably as a result of that caning. She had slept poorly for the throbbing ache from her nether regions her persisted throughout the night and, even this morning, she could still feel the dull pain in her rear resulting from the forty authoritative strokes of Greenwood’s strong right arm. She had examined her bottom in the bathroom mirror this morning and been appalled at the sight of her welted and bruised behind. That bruising extended well down her legs and her knickers only partly covered it. Now all the Hall could see it!
Of course some members of the servants had already had the chance to examine her well thrashed rump at their leisure. Victoria’s cheeks glowed scarlet as she recalled the humiliation she had been subjected to on her arrival in her designated dormitory the night before. Charlotte Carlson and her two cronies had obliged her to strip naked before giving her the required night attire for sl**ping in and they’d delighted in the spectacle of Victoria’s freshly caned backside. They’d made her stand in the centre of the dormitory with her hands on her head while they walked around her and hooted in malevolent glee at the vivid crimson stripes adorning her nether parts. That had not been the end of the indignities they had subjected her to of course. Victoria shuddered at the memory of the abuse she had suffered at their hands. With a grimace Victoria decided that she hated this Hall more with every passing minute she was obliged to spend beneath its roof.
Lost in her own misery, Victoria was caught by surprise at the booming voice from behind the door summonsing her into the study. She tapped timidly at the door before pushing open its heavy oaken bulk inwards and stepping into the room. It was thankfully warm in Lord Castlebridge’s study for a log fire was blazing in the hearth but there was a new purgatory. His Lordship was just pushing aside a plate upon which rested the last fragments of his hearty breakfast. There was the scent of fried bacon in the air and Victoria’s stomach jumped in gnawing hunger.
His Lordship looked up at her. In front of him, on his desk, was a blue bound folder. Victoria recognised it as her own personal file that she had been introduced to the evening before. The file would have a brand new entry in it of course; to whit that she had received forty strokes of the cane upon arrival at the Hall for lack of punctuality, disobedience in the required dress code and for inexcusable deceitfulness when required to explain herself. It was her first entry in her file and hardly a propitious one!
“Ah there you are Victoria.” Lord Castlebridge pointed to a set of bathroom scales placed on the floor close to his desk. “Would you oblige me by stepping onto the scales Victoria?” Numbly, Victoria did as she was bid but the act further inflamed her humiliation. She was not, by any stretch of the imagination, particularly overweight. Perhaps there was just a hint of plumpness about her midriff for Victoria was possessed of a healthy appetite but it could scarcely have been described as more than a bit of winter insulation that would disappear once the warmer months returned. Most people would have considered Victoria to have an admirable figure in fact and would have hooted with derision should it have been suggested that she was fat. Nevertheless there is a gnawing belief at the core of any girl’s soul that, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, she is obese to the point of grotesqueness should her figure resemble anything fuller than the sleek lines of a minnow. To be publicly weighed by someone who has expressed the opinion that she is putting too much weight on is a dreadful affront to a girl’s sense of self worth and pride.
Stood on the bathroom scales, therefore, Victoria felt a deep and bitter shame and her shame increased as Lord Castlebridge leaned over to read the scales and grunted in a tone that sounded to Victoria as a stern expression of disapproval. “Well Victoria,” His Lordship confirmed, “I think you could do to lose a few of those pounds!” Victoria’s head drooped in defeat. “I shall make a note of your weight in your file Victoria.” Lord Castlebridge continued. “When you come here next weekend please present yourself at this hour on the Saturday and I shall weigh you again. In fact we shall make it a standard requirement that you present yourself in your underwear each Saturday morning while you work here so as to control your weight. As I was obliged to point out to you last night, you’ve been letting things slip young lady and I won’t have it you hear? I shall expect to see some of those excess pounds coming off or heaven help you! Should I find that you have gained any weight then you can expect to find yourself renewing your acquaintance with Mr Greenwood’s cane! Do I make myself clear?”
Victoria nodded sullenly. “Yes Sir.” she muttered sulkily.
“Capital! You’ve had one good hiding in the library Victoria so I’m sure you’re not in any haste to repeat the experience so make sure that you heed my words!” Lord Castlebridge closed Victoria’s file. “Take this with you Victoria. You’ll have to give it to Mrs Moorhouse, the head of housekeeping who will note your progress and behaviour in it at the end of each day. I shall expect to find an unblemished record of salutary application and conduct in it at the end of the weekend.”
“Excellent! Now off you go and be about your duties. I shan’t be here for the rest of the day but Mrs Moorhouse will be watching you carefully so mind that you give her no cause for displeasure. You are dismissed Victoria.” Victoria curtsied self consciously and fled.
Victoria had only been in the Hall since the evening before and she was unused to its labyrinthine passages and chambers so she was hopelessly lost within a minute of attempting to find her way back to her dormitory in the servant’s wing. By the time she did find her way there she was gratified to note that it was empty. Charlotte and both her other roommates were conspicuously absent and presumably already away to whatever duties they were assigned or possibly off to town if they had the day off. Victoria was relieved. The last thing she needed was another encounter with her tyrannical colleagues. Hastily she dressed; donning the maid’s uniform allotted to her with its frilled petticoat, dark stockings, black dress, white lacy pinafore and little white cap.
She was just about to leave the dormitory when a sound caught her attention. It was the dial tone of a mobile phone lying on the little bedside table next to Charlotte’s bed. They were forbidden to carry their mobile phones while on duty. Curiously Victoria picked up the phone and checked the number of the missed call. She had a brain for figures and an eidetic memory for long numbers that stood her well in her business studies. She recognised the number at once for she had had to phone it more than once herself. It was the number of Lord Castlebridge’s city office! Victoria was baffled. She knew that some people did go into the office on Saturday mornings from time to time but why on earth would any of them be phoning one of the servant girls at Castlebridge Hall? She noted that the number had left a voicemail message. Her curiosity piqued, Victoria opened the message and listened.
The voice was all too familiar! It was the voice of her other nemesis, Emilie, Lord Castlebridge’s private secretary in his city office.; the same Emilie who had held her back after work the day before and strapped her on a pretext and thus caused her to miss the bus for Castlebridge and the subsequent lateness that had ultimately led to her caning in the Hall upon her arrival! Grimly Victoria listened to the hated voice. “Hi Babe!” It said, “Emilie here. Just to say that if we’re still on for tonight I might be a bit late so wait for me ok? I’ll be in Luciana’s around sevenish so hang about till I get there. I shall be wanting to hear all the news about little Miss Partridge’s caning last night! See you then. Love ya!”
Her cheeks burning, Victoria erased the message malevolently. She hoped that Charlotte would miss the rendezvous! She replaced the phone and clenched her fists. The intelligence that the two girls in her life making that life a misery were close friends and in cahoots with each other had shocked her to the core. They were even swapping tales about her! Doubtless Emilie would tell Charlotte all about the strapping she had given her in the office yesterday and Victoria had no doubt that Charlotte would relish furnishing the details of her caning at the Hall! Blushing in humiliation, Victoria felt an overpowering surge of hatred. It was just so unfair that she be caught between the machinations of two such b**stly girls! Felling more miserable than ever, she shuffled out of the dormitory.
In the servant’s dining room Victoria discovered that all her colleagues were missing. The only person present was one of the scullery maids clearing away the breakfast buffet. “Where is everybody?” she asked the girl.
“All off ter work bless yer love! Breakfast an’ mornin’ biefin’s finished be half past eight. I was just clearin’ t’ breakfast stuff up.”
“Oh but I haven’t had any breakfast!”
“Well there’s still a bit left if yer want ter grab a bit pet but I’d ‘urry it up if I were you. Yer a bit late an’ old Moor’ouse don’t take kindly ter t’ staff bein’ late on duty.”
“I can’t be expected to work without any breakfast!” Victoria remarked rebelliously.
“Well ‘elp yerself love.”
Victoria ladened a plate thankfully for she was famished and sat down at one of the tables to eat. The food was a little cold and beginning to congeal but she was so hungry that she wolfed it down anyway. It was only when she had finished her breakfast that a new problem occurred to her. There was nobody around and she’d apparently missed the morning briefing. She had therefore, not the slightest idea of what duties were expected of her or even whereabouts she should present herself for the execution of them! Hastily she cleared her plate away and left the servants dining room in search of assistance.
It took her several minutes to find anybody. Generally speaking, unless there was some special event or guests were expected, the Hall ran on a reduced staff at the weekends so Victoria had to spend some time before locating anybody who could advise her. Finally she found one of the maids carrying a pile of bedding linen on her way to the laundry. Quickly Victoria explained her predicament. The girl was sympathetic and friendly which, given Victoria’s experience with the domestic staff so far, was a relief. Also the girl was able to put her right since Victoria’s duties had been explained in her absence at the morning briefing. “You’re supposed to be hoovering the downstairs west wing.” she told Victoria, “And after that Mrs Moorhoouse wants you to damp-dust all the parlours and hallway on that wing. Let me just drop this lot off and I’ll go over with you to show you where everything is and get you started.”
Some time later Victoria busied herself with the vacuum cleaner in the lounges and parlours of the west wing which seemed to be blessed acres of carpets! She didn’t mind however. It helped having something to do to take her mind off her troubles and she was quite alone in the wing and thus spared for the moment the combination of authoritarian scrutiny and petty tyranny that had been her lot ever since setting foot in Castlebridge Hall. Also the maid who had helped her had been most friendly to her and her kindness had gone some way to reviving Victoria’s flagging morale. Victoria was essentially a cheerful soul and, with her spirits rising, she even began to hum to herself as she worked.
“Ah! There you are!” Victoria jumped and span around at the sound of the voice. Standing just inside the door of the parlour she was working in was a stern faced middle aged lady regarding her acerbically.
“Oh excuse me ma-am!” Victoria blurted. “Are you Mrs Moorhouse?”
I am indeed! And you I have no doubt are Victoria Partridge. Why were you so late on duty this morning Victoria? You missed the morning briefing altogether and devil the sight of you thereafter!”
“Oh I’m sorry Mrs Moorhouse. Lord Castlebridge required me to attend upon and thus I was late for the briefing.”
Mrs Moorhouse frowned uncertainly. “That’s odd!” she remarked. “It is unlike his Lordship to detain one of the maids from her duty.”
Victoria swallowed. “Oh I think he wanted to finish his breakfast before attending to me Mrs Moorhouse. He kept me waiting outside his study for quite a long time.”
Mrs Moorhouse raised an eyebrow sardonically. “Really? I see. Well where is your personal file girl? You’re supposed to let me have it before starting work.”
Victoria clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh! I.... I’m sorry! I... I forgot all about it! It’s in my dormitory.”
“Is it indeed! Well you had better run off and fetch it and this instance at that! Be quick about it!”
“Yes.... yes of course.” Hastily Victoria rushed back to the dormitory without, thankfully, too much delay in navigating her way around the Hall for Mrs Moorhouse was regarding her watch impatiently when she returned.
Mrs Moorhouse took the file with a grunt. “You must make sure that I have your file at the beginning of the day Victoria. There’ll be no excuses in future so see that it doesn’t happen again. Now be about your work. I want this floor of the wing finishing by lunchtime so no slacking. I shall be along at some point in the morning to make sure.” With that she turned and swept from the room.
Victoria was glad to see her go. There was nothing in that gimlet eye of hers to suggest sympathy and understanding; just stern disapproval and authoritarian vigilance. With the knowledge that she could be back at any time to check up on her, Victoria doubled her efforts. In the event Mrs Moorhouse was back within half an hour; her face set and grim.
“Victoria I have just had words with Mr Greenwood.” she began in an ominous tone. “He has presented me with a story rather different from the one you told me in explanation of your tardiness this morning! He tells me that it was his duty to attend upon Lord Castlebridge this morning shortly after you had been dismissed. The time he informs me was 8.23 precisely. Had you been dismissed before that time you had ample time to change into your uniform and be present at the morning briefing. Would you care to explain yourself?”
Victoria paled. She realised that she had taken a long time finding her way back to her dormitory and possibly longer to get dressed than she needed to have done. Then of course she had been distracted by the message on Charlotte’s phone. She didn’t dare mention that! “I... I er got a bit lost finding my way back to the dorm Mrs Moorhouse.” she stuttered.
Mrs Moorhouse’s frown deepened. “Well that’s rather different from the first story you told me Victoria! You would have had me believe in fact that the person to blame for your lateness was Lord Castlebridge for having kept you waiting so long. Now in fact we discover that His Lordship is entirely blameless and indeed dismissed you with plenty of time to spare for you to be present at the beginning of your duties for the day! You now inform me that it was only your failure to pay due care and attention to the direction back to your dormitory that caused you to be late. Would you agree that that is a far more accurate statement of the facts?”
Victoria shuffled uncomfortably. “I... I suppose so....”
“You suppose so? Is it or is it not the true rendering of the morning’s events?”
“Well yes.... er I’m sorry. I... I should have taken more note of the directions it was just that...”
Mrs Moorhouse raised her hand to cut Victoria off. “There is more Victoria! After you failed to be present at the briefing I returned to my office for a few minutes and then came over to this wing looking for you. You were not here! In fact I am reliably informed that you did not appear for nearly another twenty minutes! In fact I have just heard that you were in the servant’s dining room during that period! Would you care to explain what you were doing there?”
“I... I hadn’t had any breakfast! I was just grabbing a quick bit to eat.”
“Hardly a quick bite Victoria! You were in there for at least twenty minutes! Wouldn’t you say that was true?”
“I.... I don’t know. It might have been.”
Mrs Moorhouse snorted. “So let us recap then shall we? After being dismissed from His Lordship’s presence you then dawdle your way back to your dormitory where presumably you take your own sweet time donning your uniform. Then when you finally make your way to the dining room you discover that the briefing has ended and all the staff are about their duties. Unconcerned about your lack of punctuality you then sit down to consume a nice leisurely breakfast at your convenience!”
“But... but I hadn’t had anything to eat!”
“I see. And would you remind me Victoria just what was the reason for your attendance upon His Lordship this morning.” Victoria blushed and mumbled incoherently. “Speak up Victoria!”
“I... I said he wanted to weigh me.” Muttered Victoria miserably.
“Exactly! And am I right in assuming Victoria that the reason His Lordship wanted to weigh you was that he considered that you have put too much weight on of late and was desirous of you losing some of that weight in the strict adherence of a healthy diet and physical work?” Victoria nodded dumbly. “Mrs Moorhouse straightened up in stern dignity. “So instead of addressing His Lordships concerns about your weight Victoria you choose to dawdle across to the dining room at your own convenience there to idle away more time consuming, I am reliably informed, four rashers of bacon, two fried eggs, a pair of Cumberland sausages, three slices of toast and a generous helping of baked beans! Hardly the sort of regime His Lordship had in mind when expressing concerns about your weight now is it Victoria?”
Victoria shook her head abjectly. “N... no M.... Mrs Moorhouse.”
“I think His Lordship would be most aggrieved to discover that you were so unconcerned about his misgivings that you thought it appropriate to immediately ignore any admonishments to sensible diet and to stuff your face with a sizeable high calorie breakfast whilst neglecting of your duties!” Mrs Moorhouse regarded Victoria in grim discountenance. “To cap it all then Victoria you tell a complete set of falsehoods laying the blame for your misconduct and failings on no less a person than Lord Castlebridge himself! I see from your file that you received the cane last night Victoria. Would you remind me what the reasons were for your caning?”
“I.... I er was late coming to the Hall Mrs Moorhouse.”
“Yes! So I see! You have a penchant for unpunctuality it appears. I note that you were awarded ten strokes of the cane for that offence! There are another thirty strokes that you received I see. Would you care to reiterate the offences for which they were awarded?”
“I... I wasn’t dressed in the er the appropriate manner Mrs Moorhouse.”
“That accounts for another ten strokes young lady. What about the final twenty? What had you done to warrant them?”
Victoria bit her lip and lowered her head. “They... they were for not.... not telling the truth Mrs Moorhouse.”
“Precisely! You were given twenty extra strokes for lying and evasiveness Victoria; twenty strokes for unacceptable mendacity! Yet here you are, the very next day, not only showing the same unpunctuality but also displaying the very same deceitfulness for which you were caned last night! His Lordship places great store on a person’s integrity Victoria and he will be most displeased to hear that once again you are failing in personal honesty. Well since last night’s lesson appears to have failed to have made sufficient an impact it seems it is incumbent on me to reinf***e it with another! Please remain here Victoria. I shall return in a few minutes. When I do so you will be punished!”
When Mrs Moorhouse had left Victoria gripped her fists hard and lamented. It all seemed so unfair! Surely she wasn’t to have her bottom beaten again! It was still bruised and sore from her caning the night before! Victoria had to fight the desire to flee from the Hall and never set foot inside the damned place again in her life.
Her sorrow increased upon Mrs Moorhouse’s return. Clasped in that formidable lady’s hand, was a frightening looking implement. From a stout handle of some two feet in length there emerged a cluster of some dozen or so strips of leather around the same length as the handle. Mrs Moorhouse shook the thongs of the martinet loose and raised an eyebrow. “Under normal circumstances Victoria I would have had you caned. However since you are presumably still tender from the cane yesterday I will spare you further punishment to your bottom. Please remove your dress!”
Victoria gulped. “I.... I’m sorry?”
“Your dress Victoria! Please take it off!” Her head buzzing, Victoria unfastened her pinafore from around her waist. “Fold your garments and place them on that occasional table there if you please Victoria.” Mrs Moorhouse commanded her. Victoria folded her pinafore and unzipped her dress; slipping it off her shoulders and stepping out of it. Once it had joined her pinafore on the table Mrs Moorhouse nodded at her. “And your chemise if you please Victoria!” This last item joined the pile on the table and Victoria stood in helpless humiliation in her petticoat and naked from the waist upwards. The ground floor parlour they were in had large French windows overlooking the gardens. Anybody passing by would have a perfect view into the parlour and of Victoria half naked and about to be punished. She could even hear one of the gardeners working close by. Doubtless her new punishment was destined to provide more entertainment for the staff.
“Place you hands on your head and turn to face the window.” Mrs Moorhouse ordered her. Victoria obeyed miserably; staring out into the gardens. From the reflection in the glass in the windows she saw Mrs Moorhouse raise the martinet. With a loud crack the thongs lashed across her shoulders. Victoria gasped at the sudden burning fire in her back and lost her footing momentarily to take a half step forward. “Remain still!” Mr Moorhouse commanded. Victoria squirmed her shoulders against the sting of the first lash but gritted herself to remain in place. She squealed as a second blaze etched itself across her back; the thongs of the whip curling around her flanks. Soon she was crying loudly with every vicious lash of the awful martinet across her back and her flesh felt as if red hot irons had been applied to it. There were tears coursing down her face as Mrs Moorhouse flogged her methodically for the next few minutes.
Even through her tears she saw another addition to her misery and humiliation however. A gardener, presumably attracted by her cries of anguish, had taken up station among the topiary a few yards from the window. After a few more searing lashes to her back he had even dropped any pretence of working on the cypress bushes and was openly leering at the spectacle of the half naked little Victoria squealing under the torment of the martinet. Having a spectator to her punishment merely rubbed salt into Victoria’s agony and humiliation.
Victoria had no idea how many lashes she endured. After a while they all seemed to blur into one long frightful ordeal of pain. Perhaps each individual lash did not amount to the searing agony of a single stroke from Greenwood’s cane but the accumulation of the whip’s painful blows one on top of another was very quickly unendurable and Victoria was howling in torment under the relentless assault. There were moments of exquisite additional agony too as Mrs Moorhouse adjusted her stance so that the thongs of the whip curled about Victoria’s flank to bite with their tips into the soft flesh on the side of her breasts and raise a piercing shriek from the blubbering girl.
Finally Mrs Moorhouse seemed satisfied. Victoria was weeping copiously and the entire length of her back was bright scarlet from the whipping. Breathing deeply, Mrs Moorhouse folded her martinet and regarded Victoria with the satisfaction of a job well done. “That young lady,” she told her, “will hopefully be a lesson to you! Be aware though that if there is any repetition of this kind of thing then the next time, sore bottom or not, you will not be spared and Mr Greenwood will have the labour of marching you to the library for the soundest caning of your life! I shall note this punishment in your personal file Victoria. It is to be hoped that it will be the last time that I am obliged to record your misdemeanours! You have started very badly here and, should there be no improvement at your first review, then this will be only a tithe of what you may expect on that occasion.”
With that Mrs Moorhouse picked up Victoria’s clothes from the table. “You may collect your uniform from my office at lunchtime. Until then, as an added penance, you can work dressed as you are! And make sure you do work young lady! I expect this floor of the wing to be finished by lunchtime. I shall inspect it then and if it is unsatisfactory then I shall be running out of parts of you to thrash! Now get to work!”
The rest of the morning passed in haze of miserable depression for Victoria. She had never, in all her short years of life, felt so despondent and lonely. Working dressed only in her petticoat, knickers, stockings and shoes and quite naked from the waist up, she was the object of amused curiosity for any passer by and her deep sense of shame and isolation grew by the minute. To cap it all she now had a sore back to accompany the still throbbing twinges of her caned bottom.
The nadir of her morale occurred shortly before eleven o’clock whilst she was manhandling her vacuum cleaner and cleaning materials to an adjoining chamber. At this vulnerable moment Charlotte and her two cohorts “happened” to pass although in truth it was blatantly obvious that they had made a point to go out of their way to witness her new humiliation.
Charlotte crossed her arms and regarded the furiously blushing Victoria with undisguised malicious glee. “Well, well, well!” she remarked, “If it isn’t little Miss Partridge herself! Tell me something.... do you ever get dressed properly at all? It seems as if I’ve hardly seen you in anything other than your birthday suit or your underwear since the minute you arrived!”
Victoria glowered at her sulkily. “Leave me alone.” she muttered darkly.
Charlotte’s grin broadened. “Oh dear! Feeling sorry for ourself are we Miss Partridge? What have you got to grouse about this time?”
Charlotte’s companions seemed to think this hilariously funny judging by their torrent of foolish giggles. “Looks like someone’s hit her on the back.” One of them observed. “Perhaps she forgot to duck!”
“I think she’s been quailing under Maggie Moorhouse’s whip by the look of things.” The other noted. “It can’t have been a very pheasant experience!
“I should think it was a fowl experience!” Charlotte remarked gleefully. “Still it’ll stop her from swanning off won’t it?”
Victoria glared at them in vitriolic hatred. They seemed to think that they were unbearably witty! She could have done without this trio of clowns at the moment. “Just go away and leave me alone!” she repeated with a hiss.
Charlotte seemed delighted with the poisonous glare from Victoria. “Oh little Miss Garbo “Vants to be alone” huh?” She paused to run a finger along a ledge. “Tell me are you supposed to be cleaning this room? If you are then you’re not doing a very good job of it are you? Look at the muck on this ledge! I’ll have to mention it to Maggie Moorhouse! You’ve had your arse and back thrashed. God knows what part of you Maggie will take her whip to once she’s seen the state of these surfaces!”
“Haven’t you got your own work to do?” growled Victoria.
“But I am doing my work!” Charlotte replied cheerfully. Maggie asked me to pop along and see how you were doing. You may regard this as an official inspection. I’m afraid I’m going to have to report that you’re not doing a very good job.” Charlotte turned to her companions. “Well girls we must be off.” Then she addressed Victoria once more. “Tata for now Miss Partridge. I shall be reporting to Mrs Moorhouse. Doubtless she will be along in due course to take you to task for your failings!” With that parting sally the three girls departed in triumph leaving Victoria more wretched than ever.
In truth Mrs Moorhouse would have had little to take Victoria to task for in the application of her duty. The fear of adding yet another beating to her sorry weekend’s tally had been more than enough to spur her on to admirable efforts. Charlotte’s threats had been mere hollow bullying; Victoria had more than accomplished the task set out for her. It didn’t do anything to restore her morale however.
Victoria was unsure of the allotted time for lunch but she was finished in her work shortly before twelve o’clock. She unplugged her vacuum cleaner and gathered the lead up to stow the apparatus away. It was then that she realised that she could not for the life of her remember the location of the service cupboard where she was supposed to stow away her equipment before breaking for lunch. It was only a small thing and it might only delay her a short time but it was enough to crack her weakened morale. She leaned her head against a wall and wept bitterly.
Without anything else to use she dried her eyes on the hem of her petticoat and straightened up. “My word!” a voice behind her remarked amusedly, “Is this what the well dressed housemaid is wearing this season?”
Victoria spun around. A few feet away an extraordinarily pretty young girl was leaning casually against the wall with her arms folded and regarding her with a smile on her lovely features. The girl was dressed in maid’s uniform but it was different from that which Victoria had seen so far. It was altogether of superior quality and of much more stylish cut. There was an air about this girl that clearly marked her out as more senior and important than the maids that Victoria had met so far. Victoria lowered her eyes rebelliously. “Have you come to mock me as well?” she asked petulantly.
If the girl had been inclined to take offence at Victoria’s less than courteous greeting the inclination disappeared at the sight of Victoria’s face of desolation; her eyes still red from weeping. The girl regarded her kindly. “No I’m not mocking you honey. You look like you’re having a rotten day. You’re the new girl aren’t you?”
Victoria regretted her sulky greeting under the girl’s kindly smile. “Y.. yes.... I’m sorry miss. I’m Victoria.”
The girl held out a hand. “How do you do Victoria? I’m Maria, one of Lady Castlebridge’s personal maids.” The girl looked at her in sympathy. “You’ve been beaten haven’t you?”
Victoria nodded meekly. “Yes. Mrs Moorhouse whipped my back.”
“You poor thing! Here turn around and let me have a look at it for you.” When Victoria obeyed the girl stroked a gentle soothing hand over her still burning back and whistled softly. “Whew Maggie Moorhouse did a thorough job on you there sweetheart. You ought to put some ointment on that back.” Maria placed a hand gently on Victoria’s shoulder. “You were caned last night as well weren’t you?”
“How... how do you know that?”
“Honey I think the whole house knows that the new girl was caned the very first day she got here by now. In any case you were hardly discreet about it. You’re not a girl to suffer in silence! I should imagine everybody between here and the village heard you screaming the walls down while Greenwood caned you in the library last night.” Maria shook her head sadly. “Caned last night and whipped this morning! You’re off to a blinder of a start at Castlebridge Hall aren’t you? You’re going to have to get your act together honey or you’ll be taking a stroll in the woods at this rate!”
Victoria looked at her in puzzlement. “I’m sorry? A stroll in the woods? What do you mean?”
“A stroll or a walk in the woods dear. It’s a euphemism for a birching here at the Hall. It’s a sort of tradition that anybody up for a birching has to walk down to the woods at the end of the grounds and cut the birch twigs for their birching. Once you’ve cut them you have to fashion them into a birch switch to be thrashed with.”
Victoria paled. “Oh God! It sounds horrible!”
Maria nodded grimly. “It’s not a barrel of laughs Victoria! You’re tied naked to the birching post in the library and the minimum sentence is fifty strokes and it can go anywhere up to a hundred when circumstances merit it. I’ve known girls that have been still carrying the marks of a sound birching for up to a month afterwards. It’s public as well. It’s a tradition that whenever anybody is birched then the whole domestic staff is called to be present as witnesses. It’s supposed to set an example!”
Victoria bit her lip. “They wouldn’t do that to me surely!”
Maria pulled a face. “I’m afraid they would Victoria! You’ve been here less than twenty four hours and you’ve already got two big black marks in your file. Sooner or later your record is going to come up for review and unless there’s a considerable improvement on the tale so far then I can well see you being ordered down to the woods to collect some kindling for your backside! You’re going to have to shape up honey and try and keep yourself out of trouble.”
Victoria, close to tears once more, shook her head bitterly. “I can’t see how I’m supposed to do that with Charlotte Carlson having it in for me! She came along about an hour ago to inspect my work and said she was going to report it to Mrs Moorhouse so I’ve probably got another thrashing due to me!”
Maria snorted derisively. “Charlotte Carlson! That bitch! Take no notice of her Victoria. She’s only a junior maid and it’s not her place to report the performance of anybody else. She was just being a bully sweetheart. She wouldn’t dare go to Mrs Moorhouse to squeal on you. She’s got enough sins of her own and it’s hardly as if her own disciplinary record is blemishless! She was birched herself in the summer; seventy five strokes! That was a shining day! She’s been all sweetness and light ever since and sucking up to Maggie Moorhouse and Greenwood but her denoument is well overdue believe me! I know plenty about Miss Carlson and it’s high time she was taken down a peg or two!”
“I... I have to share a dormitory with her and her two friends.”
“That’s bad luck. They’re the three foulest girls in the whole house! If they give you any grief though just let me know. I’m senior to them and I’ll soon settle their hash for them!” Maria stroked Victoria’s hair sympathetically. “You’re new here Victoria but you’ll soon learn who the really important people are around here.” She nodded at Victoria’s vacuum cleaner. “Are you just about done? It’ll be lunchtime soon.”
Victoria nodded. “Yes I’m finished but I have to put my things away and I can’t remember where the service cupboard is!”
“No need to panic honey. I know where everything goes. Come along I’ll help you and then I’ll find some ointment for your back.”
For the first time that awful morning a smile crossed Victoria’s face. “Thank you so much. I was beginning to think that I had no friends left at all in the world. Charlotte and her friends were so b**stly to me and then there’s Emilie Dixon at the office!”
Maria raised an eyebrow. “You know Emilie Dixon?”
“Yes! All to well! I have to work on Fridays at Lord Castlebridge’s city office under his secretary’s supervision. It was her fault that i was caned last night. I would have been at the Hall in good time but she held me back after work and strapped me for hardly any reason at all! Because of that I missed the bus and got into terrible trouble when I got here!”
Maria looked thoughtful. “Yes she’s another bitch whose comeuppance is well overdue! I’m amazed that you know her. I didn’t know you worked under her.”
“Yes and she’s b**stly to me! I hate her! And now I find that she’s big pals with Charlotte Carlson and the pair of them are cackling like a pair of old witches every time I get punished!”
Maria came to a grinding halt and stared at Victoria. “I beg your pardon? Are you telling me that Emilie Dixon and Charlotte Carlson know each other?”
“Yes. They’re big friends it seems.”
“How do you know this Victoria?”
Victoria hesitated, unwilling to say that she had deliberately listened to one of Charlotte’s private messages. “Er I... I shouldn’t really say.”
Maria looked at her seriously. “Listen Victoria I promise you that I’ll be very discreet. You can tell me without fear I assure you. This could be very important.” Slowly she cajoled the whole story out of Victoria. When she had finished Maria rested her chin on the tip of her finger thoughtfully; the wheels and cogs of her brain turning furiously. “That’s very interesting Victoria, very interesting indeed! Listen would you do me a favour and keep that little snippet of information under your hat for the moment?”
“Yes of course... but why?”
“Let’s just say that it might be an end to all our problems. I’ll tell you more later but keep it to yourself for the moment. Come along now. It’s lunchtime in half an hour lets stow your stuff away and put some ointment on your back.” Maria reached out and caressed Victoria’s back affectionately. Her eyes were shining. This was turning out to be a wonderful day and it might get even better! She had half an hour in the privacy of the service cupboard with a bottle of ointment to get to know the pretty little Victoria partridge even better!
That afternoon Lady Castlebridge took a long luxurious bath in her chambers. After her bath she languished on the couch, her negligee open while her two maids attended to her needs. In the early days of her marriage they were needs that were more properly serviced by her husband but Lord Castlebridge’s neglect of his wife’s requirements was by now a long and sorry tale. He preferred the intimacy of his assorted secretaries; the little French girl in his Paris office, the exquisite Chinese girl in the company’s Far Eastern bureau or, most pertinently and to Lady Castlebridge’s everlasting fury, the private company of Miss Emilie Dixon of his city office. But Lady Castlebridge had made her own accommodation with her husband’s infidelities and her two maids were her own private light and joy. She had discovered in any case that she far preferred the sensual caresses of a pretty girl than the rare advances of her husband.
This is not to say that she acquiesced in her husband’s affairs or that she was indifferent to them. She despised his private harem and Emilie Dixon in particular she loathed with a passion. Nevertheless she found more than ample compensation from her two maids. Her husband was aware of her dalliance with them. For one thing it was Emilie’s endless source of satisfaction to remind him of it. But he was in the position of a person who lives in a glass house and finds the throwing of stones to be inadvisable in this matter. With his three mistresses and a couple more dalliances of which his wife was not yet aware he was hardly in a position to take her to task for her own extra marital misconduct. Nor could he easily dismiss the two girls for they were directly employed by his wife and she was fiercely protective of them. In the name of domestic harmony therefore he was apt to turn a blind eye to his wife’s passion for her two maids in spite of Emilie’s malicious provocation in the scenario.
“Oh Yes Suzette!” Lady Castlebridge breathed. “That’s wonderful!” Suzette did not reply. Her face was buried between Her Ladyship’s parted legs and she was nuzzling greedily with her tongue at that most sensitive little secret place. Maria was licking her nipples and Lady Castlebridge rested a hand on her long hair, loving both of them immensely. Many years her husband’s junior, Lady Castlebridge was still a beautiful woman, and kind and generous as well. Her two maids were devoted to her.
At last her arousal rose toward climax and she gave a long stuttering moan as her orgasm overwhelmed her. Sated for the moment she collapsed back on the sofa breathing heavily. Once she had recovered her breath she had a mind to reward her two girls by allowing them to play with each other. She adored watching the two girls make love to each other and it would invariably arouse her to action once more. She blessed her providence for the gift of these two lovely young girls.
She reached out a hand and raised Maria’s chin in order to lean forward to kiss her. “Now my little darling! Just what is it that you’ve been itching to tell me all afternoon?”
Maria grinned happily. “Well ma-am I happened to bump into the new girl Victoria Partridge just before lunch!”
Lady Castlebridge nodded. “Oh yes? She’s one of the student’s my husband patronises or so I was led to understand. She’s not another of his little playthings is she?”
“No ma-am. Not as far as I know. He had her caned as soon as she arrived at the Hall yesterday.”
“Yes I heard that! So what is the reason for your interest in her? Is she pretty? Have you been up to mischief with her?” Lady Castlebridge was quite unconcerned about her two maids’ occasional little dalliances on the side. She knew she commanded their primary devotion and they were such a deliciously saucy little pair that it would have impossible to curb their exuberant appetites. They were what they were and the last person to try to attempt to hold back a natural f***e as fundamental as that was King Canute and he never had much success either! So she allowed them a loose leash. Indeed she enjoyed hearing about their little adventures and they were always forthcoming and diverting.
Maria giggled. “Yes she is rather pretty ma-am but I’ve only had a quick snog and a feel in the West Wing service cupboard so far ma-am.”
Lady Castlebridge chortled merrily. “Well that’s not bad! The girl only got here last night! That’s pretty fast moving even by your exacting standards Maria! Well so far so good. Anything else interesting about her?”
Did you know that His Lordship has her working at his city office ma-am?”
“That’s not unusual Maria. A lot of the students under his patronage do work experience in his city offices.”
“Ah yes ma-am but how many work directly under no less a person than Emilie Dixon?”
Lady Castlebridge frowned. “That’s not so good! Are you telling me that that bitch has insinuated a spy among us here at the Hall?”
Maria shook her head vigorously. “No ma-am. She hates our Miss Dixon with a vengeance; spits bl**d even at the mention of her name! She blames her for her getting the cane last night. Whatever else she is she is no friend or ally of Emilie Dixon!”
Lady Castlebridge pondered for a moment. “Interesting. So you’re sure we don’t have a spy amongst us?”
Maria shook her head. “On the contrary ma-am! I’m sure we do! We’ve always suspected that the bitch had a spy here at the Hall and I think I may have just flushed her out into the open!”
“You intrigue me Maria! Pray continue.”
Maria grinned again, warming to her theme. Well Victoria Partridge has been allocated accommodation in Charlotte Carlson’s dormitory ma-am.”
“Wait a minute! You’re surely not saying that Charlotte Carlson is bitch Dixon’s undercover mole at the Hall! It’s impossible!”
“It’s all too possible ma-am and this morning young Victoria Partridge found the evidence to prove it!” Quickly Maria retold Victoria’s story about the voicemail message. “She was sure it was her and she used her name in any case.” Maria concluded. “Victoria also says she recognised the city office telephone number. It’ll be easy to check if the Dixon bitch was in the office this morning.”
Lady Castlebridge looked shell shocked. “It seems incredible! And are you telling me that the two of them are meeting up this evening?”
Maria nodded eagerly. “Yes ma-am. I was just coming to that! I have an old college friend who is one of the bargirls in Luciano’s. I’ll give her a call tonight and if she confirms that the pair of them are there together then we’ve got their heads on a platter!”
Lady Castlebridge shook her head in bewilderment. “Amazing! I can hardly believe it!”
“It all adds up ma-am. Remember this summer when His Lordship had you caned for losing seven thousand pounds at Ascot?”
Lady Castlebridge winced. “How could I forget?”
“Well do you recall ma-am how it came to His Lordships notice?”
“Well yes. Rupert heard that I’d lost a stack of money so I was pretty much f***ed to go along and own up.”
“So where did he hear it from ma-am?”
“Well not from Charlotte Carlson surely!”
No ma-am but if you recall you attended Ascot on that day with Lady Monsworth. Lady Monsworth’s private maid is Charlotte Carlson’s cousin! Now Charlotte couldn’t have gone along to Lord Castlebridge herself with the information but it would have been simplicity itself to pass it on to the Dixon bitch and you can bet your last chemise that she would have whispered a word in His Lordship’s ear!”
“Yes of course!” said Lady Castlebridge with her mind racing. “The timing is right as well for Rupert called me up to his study about it almost as soon as he was home from the office. The bitch must have told him about it that very day! I’ll bet she saved it up for when he was in a bad temper as well. If you recall it was at the same time as we had that trouble with Brenda Brideshead and he was in a foul mood. It would have delighted her to stir the pot by dropping that little snippet on him!”
“Exactly ma-am and I’ll bet furthermore that Charlotte Carlson was phoning her up to relate the details of your caning as well!”
Suzette had been listening in horrified silence up until this point but now she exploded. “Merde alors! La chienne! La salope! I will kill her!”
Lady Castlebridge waved a finger under her nose. “You’ll do nothing of the sort Suzette. Not a word of this to anybody do you hear! Don’t you agree Maria?”
“Absolutely ma-am! It’s too good an opportunity to miss!”
“And Victoria Partridge? Will she keep it quiet?”
“Oh yes ma-am. She will if I ask her to. Right now I’m just about the only friend she’s got in this Hall. She’s already agreed to keep it under her hat and she’ll go for any scheme that leads to the downfall of Charlotte Carlson and Emilie Dixon!”
“You’ll have to cultivate this Victoria Maria.” Lady Castlebridge told her. “Make good friends with her; get her firmly in our camp!”
“You can rely on me ma-am! She’s a lovely little thing so it won’t be too onerous a task!”
“I don’t understand!” said Suzette who was not always the quickest on the uptake.
“Think about it Suzette.” Lady Castlebridge urged her. “As long as neither the Dixon bitch or her stooge Carlson know that we’re onto their little liason then they’ll continue to pass messages back and forth. Only now that we’ve got our own little mole in both their camps we can make sure that the messages they pass on are the ones WE want them to hear! It’ll be simplicity itself to pass on misinformation through Victoria Partridge and we’ll have our own spy keeping an eye on their moves as well. As long as they’ve no idea that we’re aware of their complicity or that we’re monitoring their every move then it’s only a matter of time before they slip up and then we have them!”
“Give them enough rope to hang themselves with ma-am?” Maria ventured.
“Absolutely! With a bit of judicious management we can engineer a trap that’ll catch both our rats in a single basket!” The two girls grinned at their mistress happily. Lady Castlebridge longed back on the couch in deep satisfaction, schemes already taking shape in her mind. “Suzette darling!” she requested. “Would you be a dear and break out the sherry decanter? I rather think this calls for a celebration!