Carriaged Away

April 21,1896
Penelope Sumter

The carriage arrived promptly at seven. Lucy and Jenny were primping still in front of the hall mirror when the bell rang. I myself was hiding in the wash closet.

Despite being completely taken by surprise by Jenny’s announcement she had met Remington, I had managed to keep calm until now. I had studied the faces and expressions of Lucy and Jenny as they filled me in on the details of our dinner date and came to the conclusion neither one of them was playing me. They were both convinced they had finally met my dream man, only that was clearly impossible. My Remington does not exist because I made him up.

In the wash closet I pretended to be busy preening myself which fell naturally into the expected behavior of preparing to meet Remington for the night. I was really too nervous to be concerned about my appearance. Questions rattled in my head like, who is this guy and what nerve he must have to pretend to be my Remington! Then again according to Jenny this was the only Remington attending Brown this year. Much as I would enjoy exposing the young man as a fraud, I would also be exposing myself.

“Hurry up Penny, they are waiting downstairs.” Lucy called to me from the other side of the door.

I took several deep breaths, convinced myself I was prepared for anything, and opened the door. Jenny was practically bouncing up and down in her excitement. I smiled at Lucy as though I could not have been happier. I really must consider a career on the stage.

The three of us descended the stairs together, Lucy and Jenny side by side and me just behind them. I tried to keep my breath even in a futile attempt to steady my racing heartbeat. Lucy and Jenny seemed to be measuring each step down the staircase and proceeding with the utmost caution. Our descent lasted for hours worth of trepidation in the span of only a minute.

I recognized him immediately. His lopsided smile and slightly unkempt hair seemed fitting to his demeanor and stance. His eyes twinkled as they met mine. I remember a night not so long ago in a tavern not so far away when his hair fell in front of those eyes while he leaned haphazardly over the edge of a billiard table. I had not known his name then and if I had I might have fainted on the spot.

We came to rest in the foyer, standing just in front of our respective escorts for the evening. Mr. Carrington stood by the door ready to chaperone us for the evening. Remington offered me his arm and I took it. I breathed easily for the first time since Jenny had announced our imminent dinner plans. I could tell he was no more likely to reveal our true past than I and for that I was thankful.

Dinner was the most enjoyable experience. Remington was a perfect gentleman and even though we had only spent one previous night together we miraculously avoided any awkward moments. That was until the subject of next term came up. Jenny and Lucy have both made it clear they will not be returning. They are engaged and plan to spend the whole of next year planning their respective weddings. Their fianc├ęs are very supportive of those plans. I however am planning on attending again next term regardless of how the whole class merging scenario is worked out. Remington made his position clear as well.

“Primrose College is a financial burden on Brown which will collapse it if not addressed. There is no sane argument but to close the women’s college. If you had any sense at all, Penny, you would follow the example of your friends and withdraw yourself.” He said.

“I do not concern myself with the politics of attending college. I am here to stay until my father says I am not or the school is closed. Neither event has occurred nor do I believe either to be imminent.”

“If it is your father who requires the convincing I will wire him straight away. He is a Brown alumnus if I am not mistaken. Surely, he will see the reason which eludes your simple mind.”
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I could feel my stubborn streak rearing up as all my muscles tensed. My smile faded and my eyes hardened in their gaze. I took a shallow breath pausing and collecting my thoughts before replying.

“Simple mind?” I laughed a dangerous laugh. “I wonder what know you of the things you speak so brazenly? Have you perused the ledgers of Brown or Primrose? Do you claim to have a superior knowledge of the intricacies of college management than the esteemed members of the Board? For unless my simple mind is mistaken they voted in favor of the actions which you disapprove. Perhaps it is your simple mind which cannot see beyond its prejudices or do you honestly believe you are a better judge than the twelve men who sit on the Board?” I sipped at my wine as I finished my tirade.

I could see Remington’s anger boiling just below the surface. Then I looked around the table and realized I had angered all those present with the exception of Mr. Carrington. He looked on me with something akin to shock. I suppose it might well have been the most honest glimpse I had ever given him, or anyone at Primrose, of the true me.

My heart was pounding again as I sat there in the silence of my aftermath. Nervously I picked up my flute to sip again only to have it snatched away by Remington. I opened my mouth to ask what he thought he was doing but his voice cut through the air between us first.

“I have come to expect better manners from you. I think you may have had too much to drink. Have some water instead.” He offered a glass to me.

“You first.”

I took the glass and threw its contents on him. The table echoed with gasps as Remington nearly fell over backward jumping up from the table. The expression on his face made me think of a cat in water and I would have laughed at him were it not for Mr. Carrington’s sudden grip on my hair.

I was yanked from my chair so hard my feet left the ground for a moment. I yelped in pain as my hair felt like it was being torn from its roots.

“March!” Mr. Carrington ordered.

He did not wait for me to comply but started in the direction of the exit and pulled me along behind him. I tripped and would have fallen but for his firm grip on my hair. Quickly I regained my feet under me but lost my shoes in the rush. A moment later I felt the cool air of night as we burst through the doors.

Mr. Carrington did not pause a beat. He headed for the carriage at a deliberate gate which left me off balance in a hopeless attempt to catch up. The driver was sipping from a flask which he tried to hide as he noticed our sudden approach. Mr. Carrington either did not notice or did not care at the time.

With his free hand, Mr. Carrington opened the carriage’s door and propelled me inside with little regard for my safety. I landed half on the back seat, half off, and then fell to the floor. Before I could even grunt the door slammed closed.

“Take her back to the manor and tell Mrs. Carrington I want her prepared for a public strapping by the time I return. As soon as you have delivered her and the message you may return here to take the rest of us home. Understood?” Mr. Carrington’s voice was harsh and commanding as he spoke.

“Yes, sir.” Was the driver’s only response.

Mrs. Carrington’s face went from shock, when we arrived, to horror as the driver delivered Mr. Carrington’s instructions. I bit my lip nervously. We had all heard about the possibility of a public strapping for serious offenses but I had never seen one and I think most of the girls could say the same.

Mrs. Carrington led me by ear into her den. I was then stripped to my dressing gown in silence. I have never felt relaxed or particularly safe in Mrs. Carrington’s presence but in the weight of the silence I found myself wanting for a hug or a few words of encouragement. Even a lecture would have soothed my nerves but she gave me nothing.

My things removed and put away she grabbed hold of my ear again and led me out the side entrance toward the stables. There stands a tall post in the middle of the path which I had never before given much thought to but as it became obvious it was our destination, its purpose became clear.

Mrs. Carrington fastened my hands with a rope that hung down from a metal loop mounted high up on the pole. When done, she pulled on the other end of the rope until my arms were stretched high above my head and I was forced to stand on the tips of my toes. She tied the other end to a notch and then moved behind me. She lifted the back hem of my dressing gown and pinned it up on my back so that my naked buttocks were exposed.

I began to cry as I heard her walk away. It seemed a lifetime passed by as I waited in the cool night air unable to escape. I heard the carriage roll up. I heard the voices of my dinner companions. I heard laughing and assumed it was at me. I continued to wait, helpless to do otherwise.

At first it was eerily quiet. Then there were footsteps. Only a pair at first but followed by more and more. I tried to look back toward the manor and could only catch a glimpse from the corner of my eye. It was enough though. They were all coming. Every girl in the dormitory was being marched out to witness my humiliation. The three men from dinner were there as well, each looking smug and full of themselves.

Not a word was said to me, but the murmur behind me told me they were all talking about me. I choked back tears and hardened my heart for the inevitable. With acceptance comes strength, that is something my father taught me and it has served me well. Accept the things one cannot change. I repeated it like a mantra in my head.

The first blow from strap was low and stung my thighs like fire. I grunted in surprise but bit my tongue to avoid giving the bastard the satisfaction of eliciting a scream. The second one felt like it cut my flesh but I braced myself against the rope and gritted my teeth through the burn. The third was much the same as the second only the heat was intensifying and I shuffled my legs in a reflexive response.

The fourth struck on top of the first and I bit down hard on my tongue until I tasted blood. I will not cry I swore to God and myself. The fifth caught only my left thigh and my leg kicked up in the air and dangled their for a moment leaving me hopping on my right leg. The crowd laughed. I grunted and forced my leg back down.

The sixth stroke was a repeat of the fight but on my right leg. I expected it and kept myself planted on the ground despite every screaming nerve in my leg. There was silence behind me now and I my lips turned upward in the satisfaction of it. The seventh stroke fell covering across the middle of my bottom. Before the burn registered the eighth and ninth fell on the same place.
There was a pause then. I fought off the stinging tears in my eyes and balled my hands into fists to fight the urge to dance the burn away. I braced myself expecting another stroke to fall at any moment.

“Let that be a lesson to every girl present. If you choose to not represent this house and Primrose College with dignity you will find yourself here without dignity.” Mr. Carrington spoke to everyone.

The sound of retreating footsteps soon followed. I felt the stinging of pride, knowing that the strap had not beaten me.

It was sometime before Mr. Carrington untied me and let me free from the post. By the time he did my muscles were exhausted and I would have fallen to the ground were it not for his strong arms lifting me up.

He carried my limp body inside and up the stairs to my room. My roommates were fast asleep and he was careful not wake them as he laid me gently in my bed. He pulled my covers up over me to my neck and smiled down on me. I looked him in the eyes and thought I saw compassion.

“I am not sorry.” I whispered.

He leaned down and kissed my forehead.

“I am.” He said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent post! Full of drama and so convincing in the evocation of the strapping. I loved the last exchange.
Only quibble:some typos/errors such as "perfect gentlemen" and "alumni" when you meant gentleman and alumnus, singular.
Mr R Fane