"Mrs. Pritchard, would you be so kind as to escort Amelia and Clara to the Whippery?What a room! I suspect we will be joining the audience to watch some exciting spectacles before long.
"With pleasure, sir." Mrs Pritchard gave Jamie a brief nod and opened the door for the two cousins. Amelia followed Clara miserably out of the parlour.
Amelia did not know the long high-ceilinged corridor that Mrs. Pritchard ushered them down. Nor did she know to which part of the hall it led. Even so, a feeling of dread crept over her as the girls' high heels clacked on the parquet flooring. For one thing there was something ominously gloomy about the passage. For another, there was the word 'whippery' which hardly boded well.
"The Whippery was built by the twelfth Marquis of Hatherby, nearly two hundred years ago." The usually dour Mrs. Pritchard became more loquacious with every step. "All the maids hate this walk," she said with obvious satisfaction. "You two girls will learn to fear it before too long, I expect."
There were carved marble friezes on the walls now and Amelia glanced at them as they passed. To her horror, she realised that they skilfully depicted numerous figures, mostly rather plump-looking young women being bound to posts and benches. Some were being tied and stripped. Others were evidently about to be flagellated. Further down the passageway, others were depicted actually receiving a whipping. Amelia looked away again and shuddered.
"These bas-reliefs were commissioned at the same time as the Whippery was built." It seemed that the sharp-eyed Mrs. Pritchard had noticed her interest. "There's nothing like them in the three counties. The twelfth Marquis was a man truly dedicated to the use of the rod."
There was a tone of outright admiration in her voice. Amelia glanced again at the reliefs and shivered. At the further end of the series, men were taking the naked girls down from the whipping posts and...hurriedly, blushing, she looked away again.
"As you see, in those days the Lords of Hatherby could do pretty much exactly as they pleased." Mrs. Pritchard sounded regretful that such days had passed, even a little sad. "And the estates were vast. That's why the Whippery had to be so large."
They were past the friezes now but shelves of massive black books lined the rest of the corridor.
"These are the big black books of Hope Hall. They go back nearly two centuries," the housekeeper continued informatively. "You will see that they used to flog staffs of forty or more maids at a time. Not to mention the footmen and stable-boys... Ah!!" Amelia had never seen the woman so excited and enthusiastic. "How those walls must have echoed with their squeals!"
At the far end of the corridor there was a sort of lectern containing a huge open book. Mrs. Pritchard paused to show them the names inscribed there. Amelia suppressed a smile as she saw the name of Betsy among those of the maids. Then her pleasure curdled for, at the end of the list of names, she saw her own and Clara's.
"This is the current big book and this page represents the current week. When you are told to add a black mark you will do so, like this." Mrs. Pritchard took a pen from an inkwell which was set into the stand, and carefully drew a black cross next to Amelia's name. "The usual tariff is one dozen strokes of the birch for each black mark, paid off after church on Sunday."
"But..." Amelia stared at the mark, then up at the still-poised pen, with horror.
"That is for this morning's little tantrum," Mrs. Pritchard said with satisfaction. "Normally, you will be sent down here to inscribe your own fate. The contemplation engendered by the walk is considered salutary."
Before Amelia could protest further, Mrs Pritchard turned to the side and threw open a set of large double-doors. Amelia and Clara stepped into the Whippery and both stood looking around in awe. What struck Amelia most was the elegance of the chamber. After Mrs. Pritchard's commentary she had expected the room to be larger. Not that it was small. The Whippery was circular and divided into two halves. One half had several semi-circular banks of seats of reddish oak with crimson velvet cushions.
"Seating for seventy spectators altogether," Mrs. Pritchard said smugly. "Not that it needs to be used very often, these days."
The second half of the room was made up of a small stage flanked by two tiers of more basic wooden benches, arching off at either side, and cut off from the platform by a door on either side. The whole of the Whippery was as light as a conservatory, despite the quantities of woodwork. More than three-quarters of the circular building was composed of tall glass windows,which started just above the level of the highest rows of seats. Above these was a small wall, then another row of lights, this time sloping inward, to meet the base of a glass and ironwork cupola high above.
"The stage faces south, to get the best of the light," Mrs. Pritchard said reverently.
Amelia was already looking at the stage. Affixed to the back wall was a great St. Andrew's cross, and at either side were arranged several dismal looking whipping blocks and trestles.
7 hours ago