"I say, girls, aren't the meadows looking splendid!" Jamie slashed his whip through the air, neatly decapitating a buttercup. Amelia's bottom tensed in automatic response to the hiss of the crop, and she sensed Clara flinch beside her.I'm afraid the scene must end here, although you must be wondering - as am I - about the two maids the Reverend has brought with him. One at least seems to know she is in trouble.
There was certainly truth in his observation. The meadows on the far side of the ornamental lake were ablaze with wild flowers. Golden buttercups vied for attention with crimson poppies, while mauve vetchlings and the creamy froth of meadowsweet provided a palette of subtler colours. Not that Amelia was in any mood to appreciate the scene.
For one thing, the soft sward was difficult to walk across in the precariously high heels of her button boots. For another, the little smock and frilly knickers, so humiliating in the nursery, were even more mortifying out here in the open air. Anyone might see her out here - gardeners, estate workers...the stable-boys.
Amelia's cheeks burned anew as she remembered that cat-calls that had followed the cousins as they tottered across the cobbles of the courtyard. The knowledge that she would have to return, probably passing the stable block again, squatted like a stone in her stomach.
Then there was the fact that the mission they were on was far from cheering. Betsy bustled along behind Jamie and the cousins, laden down with trugs and secateurs. One glance at the maid's burden reminded Amelia of the task they were intent on.
Jamie had announced their expedition after luncheon. "We need to put up some birches for you girls. It's not the best time, as they are in leaf, but that cannot be helped. It looks like a lovely afternoon. What do you say, girls - shall we go up in the groves and cut you some switches?"
"Yes, sir," Clara had replied softly, after a moment's hesitation. Amelia had nearly slapped the silly little bitch.
"Amelia, you don't seem so keen. Have you other plans, perhaps? Were you hoping to pay a visit to the Reverend Dawes' study, for instance?"
The very mention of his name had made her face go red. The jovial suggestion filled Amelia with utter dismay.
"No...please," she had said quickly, terrified now that he would send her, on some pretext, to the rector.
"So you would rather come with Clara and me to cut birches?"
"Oh, very well, I suppose so."
"Amelia!" Jamie's tone had decided her to rephrase.
"Yes...please...sir," she had said, forcing the words out one by one.
"Jolly good." Jamie had given her bottom a friendly squeeze. "I'm sure we will have a lovely afternoon."
The little party strolled on in the warm afternoon sun, through the meadows, and then to the park beyond. Herds of graceful fallow deer moved off as they approached, disappearing into the dappled shade of the oaks that fringed the pasture.
The young man led the girls on through a gate which gave onto a pretty woodland ride. Almost at once, the pathway began to climb steeply through the woods. The trees lining the woodland ride on either side were mostly oak, though hornbeam soon became more common.
"It is a remarkable estate, is it not?" Jamie said, waving at the woods. "All this is still within the walls. Of course, it used to be truly vast in the old days."
Amelia concentrated on keeping her balance. The path was a rough farm track. The sun-baked clay that had given some solid footing for her heels was rapidly becoming sandy. Glancing round, she noticed that silver-barked birch trees had begun to make an appearance, lining the pathway. Amelia had always loved the delicate grace of the birch but, today, their beauty gave her no pleasure. Instead they seemed ominous and tainted.
"One wonders how long these groves have been maintained," Jamie mused as they followed the path upward. He led them from the main path. It was brighter here, for the birch foliage was light, the trees were small and the afternoon sun was shining. The woods were full of birdsong, but for all this, the place seemed terrible to Amelia. Just as in the Whippery, the very brightness of the groves only heightened their sense of menace.
The birches here seemed to be shrubs rather than trees, for the most part consisting of regular sized evenly spaced bushes. Jamie instructed the cousins and the maid to take a trug and pair of secateurs each. Then he led Amelia to one thicket of birch.
"These are coppiced so we can reach the shoots," he explained. "Not usually a long-lived tree, the birch, but these beauties are ancient. The coppicing lengthens their lives." He pulled a long limb free and indicated that Amelia should snip it off. "It makes you wonder, doesn't it -" his face was rapt "- how many birch rods has this old stool provided for Hope Hall?"
Amelia cut the next bough that he indicated and placed it in the trug.
"It must be hundreds anyway," Jamie continued. As he imparted this information, he grinned at the tension in Amelia's face, and patted her gently on her behind. "So, while you're cutting," he murmured softly, "think about all those well-flogged bottoms."
* * *
"That's it, Clara, good long limbs - they'll make a birch that will fetch you properly, my sweet."
Amelia tried to ignore Jamie's relaxed and amused voice, and concentrate on her doleful task. It was not easy.
"Betsy, what on earth is this? Great heavens, girl, you should know how to cut a Hope Hall rod by now! This little twig is only good for one thing. Do you what that is?"
"A-A bosom birch, sir?"
"That's right. A little bitty titty-teaser. Now I will have no waste. Cut them longer, or we shall demonstrate to the young ladies why it is advisable to cut their switches good and long."
Amelia glanced down at her trug in alarm, trying to gauge if any of her leafy boughs might be adjudged too small, and trying to quell the sensation of near-panic that gripped her vitals. She decided against the branch that she was going to cut and reached out to take another, more substantial one.
"I say, Jamie, well met. What a glorious day!"
The voice of the newcomer made her hand freeze for a moment, and Amelia was not able to stop her outstretched arm from trembling slightly.
"Glorious indeed, Reverend. Ah, you have trugs with you, I see. I suspect that you are on the same mission as we."
Amelia swallowed bitter bile as the two men chuckled behind her.
"It really is remarkable. However many dozen birches I put up each winter, I always seem to be going through them and need to come and cut more by the end of spring." He sighed theatrically. "The wickedness of the world, Jamie, makes constant demands on my store of rods."
Amelia laid the cut branch in the trug, which was on the ground, conscious that in bending she must display her bottom to the watching men. However, she need not have worried.
"Amelia, Clara, leave your tasks and come over here."
Amelia turned at last to find what she had half-expected and much dreaded. The Reverend Dawes' glittering gaze immediately locked onto her eyes. It was only for a moment, but for that moment she was sure that her heart had altogether stopped. It was only with a real effort of will that she could obey Jamie's instruction and walk towards that terrible gimlet gaze.
"Old Banks, the woodsman, has kept these coppiced for forty years to safeguard the Hall's supply of rods," Jamie declared.
"Quite right! Faith, Rose - watch and learn and note well the size of limbs required, unless you want to receive the same."
The Reverend's presence had so compelled Amelia's attention that she had scarcely been aware that he had not arrived alone. Now she ventured a glance at his companions. A lovely girl with long blonde hair and a demure expression stood next to a robust-looking young woman with a shock of red curls. Both wore smart black maids uniforms. Neither girl replied but both kept their eyes downcast, and Amelia saw the redhead swallow glumly.
I must come clean and confess to you that in the original, what followed was a very graphic description of a bosom birching that I found quite distasteful. Some of you might have enjoyed it but I felt it went beyond the scope of this strictly spanking blog. There will be a much more exciting selection next week, with some actual spanking in it, I promise.