Woody Woodpecker #070
3 hours ago
I sank on the bed with a sigh... "I'm done in. It's been a long day."
"Aye, it has that." Jamie unfastened his collar and cuffs and unbuckled his sword belt, but made no move to undress further. He pulled the strap from the scabbard and doubled it, flexing the leather meditatively.
"Come to bed, Jamie. What are you waiting for?"
He came to stand by the bed, swinging the belt gently back and forth.
"Well, lass, I'm afraid we've a matter still to settle between us before we sleep tonight." I felt a sudden stab of apprehension.
"What is it?"
He didn't answer at once. Deliberately not sitting down on the bed by me, he pulled up a stool and sat facing me instead.
"Do ye realize, Claire," he said quietly, "that all of us came close to being killed this afternoon?"
I looked down at the quilt, shamefaced. "Yes, I know. I'm sorry."
...After a long moment of silence, he sighed and stood up, slapping the belt lightly against his thigh.
"Well, then," he said. "Best get on wi' it. You've done considerable damage by crossing my orders, and I'm going to punish you for it, Claire. Ye'll recall what I told ye when I left ye this morning?" I recalled all right, and I hastily flung myself across the bed so my back was pressed to the wall.
"What do you mean?"
"Ye know quite well what I mean," he said firmly. "Kneel down by the bed and lift your skirts, lass."
..."I will not allow you to beat me," I said firmly, keeping a tight hold of the bedpost."
"Oh, ye won't?" He raised a sandy brow. "Well, I'll tell ye, lass, I doubt you've much to say about it..."
"Likely. If not before, certainly during. I expect they'll hear ye at the next farm; you've got a good set of lungs." He grinned odiously and came across the bed after me.
He pried my fingers loose with some difficulty, and pulled firmly, hauling me to the side of the bed. He managed to turn me facedown on the bed, twisting my arm to hold me there.
"I mean to do it, Claire! Now, if you'll cooperate with me, we'll call the account square with a dozen strokes."
"And if not?" I quavered. He picked up the strap and slapped it against his leg with a nasty thwapping sound.
"Then I shall put a knee in your back and beat you 'til my arm tires, and I warn ye, you'll tire of it long before I do."
"You barbarian! You...you sadist!" I hissed furiously. "You're doing this for your own pleasure! I'll never forgive you for this!" Jamie paused, twisting the belt.
He replied levelly, "I dinna know what's a sadist. And if I forgive you for this afternoon, I reckon you'll forgive me, too, as soon as ye can sit down again."
"As for my pleasure..." His lip twitched. "I said I would have to punish you. I did not say I wasn't going to enjoy it." He crooked a finger at me.
The group leaves the inn the next day and travels on horseback, and the journey is very uncomfortable for Claire's backside. She gets down and walks, and Jamie walks with her. Out of earshot of the others, they have a long talk and she comes to understand him better.-----------------
I was reluctant to leave the sanctuary of the room next morning. I had not spoken to Jamie since the night before, but he noticed my hesitation and urged me to come out with him to breakfast.
"You dinna need to fear meetin' the others, Claire. They'll chaff ye a bit, but it won't be bad. Chin up."
He might well be in a good mood, I thought bitterly. If it was revenge he'd wanted the night before,
It had been a most unpleasant night. My reluctant acquiescence had lasted precisely as far as the first searing crack of leather on flesh. This was followed by a short, violent struggle, which left Jamie with a bloody nose, three lovely gouges down one cheek, and a deeply bitten wrist. Not surprisingly, it left me half-smothered into the greasy quilts with a knee in my back, being beaten within an inch of my life.
Jamie turned out to be right. The men were restrained in their greetings, but friendly enough. The hostility of the night before had vanished.
As I was dishing eggs at the sideboard, Dougal came up and slipped a fatherly arm around my shoulders.
"I hope Jamie wasna too harsh wi' ye last night, lass. It sounded as though ye were being murdered, at least."
Dougall turned to call to Jamie, seated at the table eating bread and cheese. "Hey, now, Jamie, it wasna necessary to half-kill the lass. A gentle reminder would ha' sufficed." He patted me firmly on the posterior in illustration, making me wince. I glowered at him.
"A blistered bum never did anyone no permanent harm," said Murtagh, through a mouthful of bread.
"No, indeed," said Ned, grinning. "Come have a seat, lassie."
"I'll stand, thank you," I said with dignity, making them all roar with laughter.
I began to forgive him for what he had done to me.
As though reading my mind, he said, not looking at me, "Do you know... I mean, can ye understand, maybe, why I thought it needful to beat you?"
I waited a moment before answering. I understood, all right, but that was not quite all there was to it.
"I understand," I said. "And so far as that goes, I forgive you. What I can't forgive," I said, my voice rising slightly in spite of myself, "is that you enjoyed it!"
He bent forward and laughed for a long time. He reveled in the release of tension before finally tossing his head back and turning to me. I could see his face, lined with exhaustion, strain, and mirth. The scratches down his cheek were black in the dim light.
"Enjoyed it!" he said, gasping, "you don't know just how much I enjoyed it. You were so... God, you looked lovely. I was so angry, and you fought me so fierce. I hated to hurt you, but I wanted to do it at the same time..." he said, breaking off and wiping his nose, "yes. Yes, I did enjoy it."
None of the masters went by a rulebook, their teaching was careful, and if the boys did not do their arithmetic, English, French, Latin, algebra and geography, they were caned for it. All the masters were very cheerful as they bent the boys over and caned them, and Sergeant-Major Croucher liked to make a small ceremony of ht, military style. When he gave them one crack, he said he was making them lance-corporals, when he gave them two they became corporals and so on up to the commissioned ranks.Wasn't he a nice schoolmaster?
It was a matter of pride for all the boys to get a certain amount of caning, and if Croucher noticed that any of the shy ones were failing to qualify, he invented a minor crime and made them lance-corporals for the sake of their morale. When he caned shy boys he was so cheerful he made it impossible for them to be afraid. But once he bent them over he gave them a really good crack. Then they would run away with grins on their faces holding their backsides, knowing they could prove themselves men by taking down their pants and showing the red mark Croucher had given them.
"Did ye no promise to obey me?" he asked, shaking me gently.
"Yes, but--" but only because I had to, I was going to say, but he was already urging my horse's head around toward the thicket.
"It's verra dangerous, and I'll not have ye there, Claire. I shall be busy, and if it comes to it, I can't fight and protect you at the same time." Seeing my mutinous look, he dropped his hand to the saddlebag and began rummaging.
"What are you looking for?"
"Rope. If ye wilna do as I say, I shall tie ye to a tree until I come back."
"Aye, I would!" Plainly he meant it. I gave in with bad grace, and reluctantly reined in my horse...
"Oh, one more thing."
What's that?" I said sullenly.
"If you leave that copse before I come for ye, I'll tan your bare arse wi' my sword belt. Ye wouldna enjoy walking all the way to Bargrennan. Remember," he said, pinching my cheek gently, "I dinna make idle threats."
I was seated behind the desk, comb in hand, studying my reflection in the looking glass, when the Captain came in. He gave me a glance that took in my disheveled appearance, the rifled cupboard, and the disfigured blotter.
Without blinking, he drew up a chair and sat down across from me, lounging casually with one booted foot resting on the opposite knee. A riding crop dangled from one fine, aristocratic hand. I watched the braided tip, black and scarlet, as it swung slowly back and forth over the carpet.
"The idea has its attraction," he said, watching my eyes follow the sweep of the whip. "But I could probably think of something better, given a few moments to collect myself."
"I daresay you could," I said, fingering a thick sheaf of hair out of my eyes. "But you aren't allowed to flog women, are you?"
"Only under certain circumstances," he said politely. "Which your situation doesn't meet--yet. That's rather public, though. I thought we might get better acquainted in private, first."
The tension was slightly relieved by the entrance of an orderly, bearing a tray of tea things. Still silent, Randall poured out and offered me a cup. We sipped some more.
Don't tell me," I said finally. "Let me guess. It's a new form of persuasion you've invented--torture by bladder. You ply me with drinkables until I promise you anything in exchange for five minutes with a chamber pot."
"As exciting as watching paint dry," one of her friends told her. Hannah didn't care. She loved the equestrian sport of dressage. True, it wasn't exciting or dangerous like racing, jumping, and polo. It was simply horse and rider moving as one, the rider's invisible signals guiding the animal through intricate patterns and movements. It looked deceptively simple. The truth was, it took a lot of hard work.
Hannah loved riding Curtain Call, her grey mare, and Cally always seemed to know when it was important to perform well. This day was one of those times. They were competing in the first show of the season, and Hannah was nervous. Would all their hard work be rewarded?
When the steward called their number, Hannah rode Cally into the ring, saluted the judge, then guided her mount through the compulsory three minute routine that each horse and rider would perform. The time flew by, and when it was over Hannah knew they had done well. So did her partner; Cally tossed her head when Hannah patted the mare's warm, damp neck and inhaled the tangy aroma of horse sweat.
As she left the ring, she passed Siegfried on his way in. He was riding his new Hanoverian stallion Kohl, and was concentrating on keeping the young horse focused. He ignored Hannah's cheery "Good luck!"
Siegfried. Her handsome German riding master. He was forty-something, an excellent rider, and a strict disciplinarian. Siegfried had very high standards: he expected his students to be immaculately dressed, their mounts well-groomed, and if they ever dared to arrive late, well... Hannah loved to watch him training a horse on a long line. The way he handled the long-lashed lunging whip as the animal circled around him always excited her more than she cared to admit.
Hannah had been delighted when she and Cally were accepted for private lessons. Siegfried bestowed this honour only on students whom he felt had potential. She and Cally had worked hard all winter, and now they had put all that effort to the test.
After leaving Cally in her groom's capable hands, Hannah walked to the secretary's tent where results for each class were posted. She scanned down the list for her class, expecting to see Siegfried's name first and then her own lower down. To her delight Hannah saw her name in third place. Siegfried's name was below, in fourth position. She had beaten him in the Novice class.
Beaming, Hannah rushed to tell her groom the wonderful news and to give Cally a big hug. She had scarcely arrived when she heard the sound of boots crunching on the gravel behind her. Turning around, she found herself facing Siegfried. He did not look pleased.
"So, your score is higher than mine."
Hannah smiled. "Yes, it was a fluke. I didn't expect to be in the ribbons."
Siegfried did not return the smile. "In Germany we have a tradition. When the pupil surpasses the teacher in a competition, the teacher gives the pupil a kick in the seat of his pants."
Hannah looked alarmed. Was he going to kick her, here in public?
"But that's only for the men. For the pupils who are women, we have a different tradition." That's when Hannah noticed Siegfried holding his dressage whip in one hand and tapping it against the palm of the other hand. He nodded curtly, spun on his heel and quickly strode away.
Hannah blushed and wondered what he meant. Surely not... Everyone carried a whip; they were as much a part of one's outfit as spurs, top hat and gloves. She glanced around to see if her groom had overheard. She didn't think so. He seemed occupied with brushing Cally.
When she arrived the following week for her early morning private lesson, Hannah was uncharacteristically unsettled. She replayed her teacher's threat in her mind, and wondered if he intended to follow through. He had probably forgotten all about it, and she was not about to remind him.
The lesson passed uneventfully in the indoor arena, although Hannah was distracted and Siegfried shouted at her when she failed to execute a relatively simple maneuver that they had practised hundreds of times.
"I'm sorry," she called, and tried again.
"Don't be sorry. Do it right! Why do I waste my time on you?" Then, as she and Cally performed the exercise correctly, "That's better. Enough for today." Siegfried left the arena and Hannah breathed a sigh of relief. So, he has forgotten, she thought.
Hannah led her mare back to the barn and made her comfortable, then carried the saddle and bridle into the small room used for cleaning and storage. She hung the bridle on a hook, lifted the saddle onto a low sawhorse, and filled a bucket with warm water. The barn was deserted; the first group lesson wasn't for several hours. As she rubbed saddle soap into the girth, she heard footsteps approaching. Siegfried's muscular frame filled the doorway. The shiny silver top of his dressage whip flashed.
"We have some unfinished business. You remember what I said at the show?" Hannah nodded, her heart racing wildly. He gestured toward the saddle. "Bend over." She did so, dropping her sponge and clinging to the rough legs of the sawhorse as if they would save her.
"What was your score last weekend?"
"I... I think it was 103."
"And mine was 97. That's how many points lower?"
How could he expect her to do math in her head in this position? "Oh, I don't know." Dear God, was he really going to do what she thought he was going to do? "Six."
"Six. So you'll get six."
Swish thwack! The whip whistled through the air and landed across the seat of Hannah's tightly-stretched tan breeches. She flinched, gasped, but did not move. Stay calm, she told herself. Courage. That's what he wants to see. Self-discipline.
The second stroke was harder, the sting sharper. Hannah squeezed her eyes shut. Only four to go. This was an honour. She had done something significant, something unusual, and this was her reward.
Swish thwack! The third stroke was lower, but not harder. She jerked and groaned. Halfway there. You can do it, her inner voice soothed.
Siegfried remained silent, administering the remaining strokes calmly but forcefully. Hannah managed to get through them all without disgracing herself, even though tears were oozing through her closed eyelids.
When it was over, she slowly raised herself to an upright position, resisting the urge to clutch her blazing backside. Riding would be impossible for the next day or two. She looked up. Siegfried was smiling.
He reached out, took her hand in his and shook it briefly, formally.
"Good work. You did well."