Emma could not sleep, though she was very tired. It was well that she was not claustrophobic, for her bed was in a sort of cupboard in the corridor off the kitchen. Just long enough to lie flat in, with a couple of feet of height and slightly more width, it was much like being locked into a chest. She comforted herself that there were air-holes in the wooden door which let fingers of yellow gaslight into her little prison. At least she was comfortable. The sheets and cotton nightdress felt luxurious after the coarse reformatory bedding, and the mattress, though thin, was a real improvement on bare bridewell boards. It was neither discomfort or confinement that was keeping her awake.
The truth was that she missed the company, if not the conditions, of the reformatory. Night in her dormitory had been full of sounds; the moans of girls whose bottoms had been welted that day, trying to find a comfortable position; the clank of manacles, for each girl was tethered nightly to her bed by an anklet and stout iron chain; the low murmur of friends risking a furtive gossip, and the gasps of those daring girls who would not, or could not, obey the strict reformatory rules regarding self-abuse. Above all, there had been the breathing of her fellow inmates and the sense that her ordeal was being shared.
Here, Emma felt alone. Mrs Pritchard seemed as cold as she was imperious. Cook, who had set her to work at once, was a big, jolly woman who wielded a wooden spoon with vigour. Emma slipped her hand over her bottom, feeling to see if the tenderness had abated yet. The skin still felt a little sore. Cook had a strong arm and her wooden spoon had been very big and extremely hard. The first time she had ordered Emma to hoist her skirts, it had just been a few hard cracks. The second time, it had been a few more, and the new girl had to hop about for several minutes, clutching her hot cheeks, before returning to scouring pans.
The third time Cook took the spoon to her had been terrible. Emma had missed a miniscule mark on one of Cook's copper pans and the big woman was furious. Grabbing the hapless kitchen-maid by her earlobe she had hauled her around the big table and and sat down on her chair, forcing Emma over her knee in the same well-practised movement. Emma's skirt had been lifted and her new cotton drawers pulled brusquely apart, almost before she knew what was happening.
The wooden spoon came down and down again in quick succession. Emma had squealed and squirmed in the large woman's grip, all to no avail. Once she got her hand back protectively, but her knuckles had been instantly rapped.
The paddling continued until Emma shrieked herself hoarse. Her bottom was sore and she had kicked and bucked increasingly desperately. All in vain. Cook's arm had been relentless, and her imprisoning grip tremendously strong.
Finally, sobbing and gasping for breath whilst desperately clutching her hot buttocks, Emma had been thrust off the capacious lap.
"Get on with your work," Cook had ordered curtly. Blinking tears from her eyes, Emma watched the woman place the big spoon back on its hook. Then she had hurried back to her pile of washing-up.
Another day of that tomorrow, she thought and sighed, wondering what else the day would bring.
Emma's sleeping conditions are quite Harry Potteresque, don't you think?