February 2, 1897
Jonathon Goulding was waiting on the steps for me when I left Carrington Manor this morning. I watched as Elizabeth Bassett passed him on the steps and there was a glance between them which spoke volumes about a story of which I know nothing more than curious rumors. Someday, I will ask her directly, but for now it is only one of many questions and nowhere near the top of the list. With her gone, his eyes were only for me and he barely grunted polite greetings to the other girls as they went. I took my time descending, observing him for some clue as to his purpose this time.
He tipped his hat and lowered his head at me, as if the social conventions of the privileged would matter to me. I took his arm when he offered it and smiled politely. We began the walk toward Primrose Hall and for a moment I felt like all was right in the world. If only we could live our lives in such moments, then nothing else would ever matter.
But, everything matters.
“We have only so many steps to take before we must part. Tell me, what brings you to me on this day?” I said.
“I am not certain I wish to tell you.” He replied.
I giggled at the thought.
“You are a strange man.” I said.
“Do you often come to tell people things you do not wish to tell them?”
“And you do not find the concept strange?”
“I do not. Unusual perhaps, but not strange.”
“Are they not synonyms?”
He opened his mouth and then closed it before speaking.
“Would it be so painful to admit I am right?”
“Not if it would make you happy.” He said.
I laughed again.
“My happiness is not dependent upon you.” I said.
“The man you shot, he is free.” He said.
There was a somberness in his tone and the abrupt change in subject left me feeling off balance. The lighthearted conversation was suddenly heavy. I took a measured breath before speaking again.
“Why should I care?” I asked.
“I think you know.”
“Tell me anyway, just to be sure.” I said.
“He will be coming for you and Miss Bassett as well I think.”
“So, you did know who they were after.” I said.
“Not at first, but I have learned the truth.” He replied.
“What do they want with her?” I asked.
“I do not know.”
“Who are they?”
“I cannot say.”
“Always questions with you and never answers. What good are you to me, Mr. Goulding?”
“I am trying to protect you.”
“Should I run away in fear? Cower beneath some stone in the forest? If that is your expectation, you shall be disappointed.”
“I am only asking you to be cautious. There is trouble enough at Primrose these days and even a little more could cause irreparable damage.”
“Why don’t you tell me everything?”
“Because I cannot.”
“I am sure that is convenient for you, but it means nothing to me.”
“If I told you all that I know, you would turn this delicate situation into an explosive one. There are more lives at stake, than yours and Miss Bassett’s. Try to understand.”
We reached the steps to Primrose Hall and stopped walking. I let go of his arm and turned to face him. There was frustration in his face again and I could feel it within myself as well. Perhaps we are on the same side and even want the same things, but I do not fully trust him and I can see he feels the same by the look in his eyes.
“You were right, you should not have told me anything at all. All I really want is to walk up these stairs and attend my classes in peace.” I said.
“And you say you do not want to runaway and hide? I am not so foolish or so gullible as to believe you are nothing more than a simple schoolgirl, Miss Waters.”
“Whatever you think you know about me Mr. Goulding, you are wrong.”
“Perhaps, but maybe I see you better than you see yourself.”
“So, this man, will he come for me?” I asked.
“What would you have me do?”
“Simply be aware. I will do what I can to stop him but do not make yourself an easy target.”
“And Miss Bassett?”
“I think it best if she does not know.”
“Because unlike you, she will only act more foolishly not less.”
“So, you think me a fool.” I said.
“I…” He stammered.
“Go on Mr. Goulding, I have classes to attend and you obviously have pressing matters as well.” I said.
I left his presence before he could say anymore. For all the trouble he wished to save me, he caused enough of his own. I slipped into Mr. Bard’s classroom only a moment after the bell chimed, but late is late. Mr. Bard made certain I understood.
“Nice of you to join us Miss Waters.” Mr. Bard said.
“My apologies, sir. I was unavoidably detained.” I replied.
“Flirting on the steps of the Hall is not unavoidable detainment.”
“Yes, sir.” I said.
I stared at floor, embarrassed to be caught in a misleading statement.
“Come here.” He ordered.
Reluctantly I walked to the front of the classroom. When I stood before him he turned and walked to the corner. He brought the stool from it and set it to rest in front of me.
“Bend over it.” He said.
I bit my lip and then decided to do as I was told without comment. It felt more than a little awkward and even more so when he raised my skirts and parted my bloomers to bare my backside for the class to see.
He walked over to his desk and picked up his paddle. He swung it in the air as he walked back over to me. I closed my eyes as I felt the swoosh of air flow over my body. My bottom was still rather tender from Mr. Carrington’s strap on Friday evening.
The first swat made me gasp and tears sprang from my eyes.
“I think ten swats should be enough. Do you agree Miss Waters?”
“Yes, sir.” I said.
“Excellent, you may count the rest.” He said.
He waited a mere heartbeat before swinging again.
“Two, sir.” I said.
The next came before I even finished speaking.
Mr. Bard took a moment to walk in a circle around me and then swung the paddle hard, just as he reached the completion of it. I cried out and tears fell freely from my eyes.
“Four, sir.” I said.
He swung again.
“Five, sir.” I counted.
He paced from side to side.
“Let this be a lesson to all of you ladies, I will not tolerate tardiness.” Mr. Bard lectured.
He stopped off to my left side again and then raised the paddle high in the air only to bring it crashing down with such force, my legs went flying up in the air. I screamed as the burning pain rippled through my buttocks.
“Six, sir.” I managed after a moment.
The next two were given one after the other with such speed and force I could not count them separately. My legs kicked in the air and I wriggled against the stool, gasping for air.
“Seven, eight, sir.” I said between sobs.
He swung again before I could brace myself for it. My legs flailed in the air and grabbed the legs of the stool until my knuckles were white, just to stay down upon it.
“Nine, sir.” I said.
The final one was low and caught the back of legs. The force of it tipped me off balance on the stool and I landing on my side on the floor with the stool tipped over as well. My hands grabbed my tortured bottom and I sobbed.
“That makes ten I believe.” Mr. Bard said.
I could only nod. He allowed me a few moments to collect myself although I only used them for tears and massaging my bottom. His strong arms lifted me off the ground and righted the stool. He placed the dunce cap on my head and gestured for me to sit on the stool.
Wiping tears from my eyes, I sat upon the stool and winced as I did. The only thing which made it alright was the silence in the room. The other girls were not laughing at me, or the situation. I would be angry at Mr. Bard, but the fault is not his alone.
Class was understandably long and afterward it was nice to have some sympathy.
“Was it worth it?” Anna asked.
“No.” I replied.
“Interesting, I would have thought Mr. Goulding would be worth any price.” She said.
The girls around us giggled at the thought, although I am not sure any of them would willingly trade a sore bottom and the humiliation of sitting on the dunce stool for an evening with Mr. Goulding let alone a few minutes of conversation on the school’s steps. I rubbed my bottom ruefully.
“The only things worth so much are the ones we want but cannot have.” I said.
Anna’s eyes narrowed to slits and her cheeks flushed with a hint of anger, but she laughed with the rest of the girls and said nothing more. Clearly she has the wrong idea of Mr. Goulding’s interest in me. There is no romance of which to be jealous.