Breakfast the next morning was a strangely silent affair. By unspoken consent, neither partner referred to the night before. The only reference made was when the time came to kiss goodbye, as they got into their respective cars to go to work.What now? Was this a trick of Tony's to frighten her into remembering to lock her car? (No remote control, then, to lock it from within the safety of her flat.) Will Ruth be tutoring Robin whether she likes it or not?We shall find out next week.
"Try and keep that bottom of yours out of trouble today, won't you." Tony smiled at her as he held her car door open. "I'll have to think about how to make an honest woman of you if you keep flashing it off to all and sundry." Before Ruth could think of a suitable response, he had wheeled about and got into his own car.
Tony's comment stayed with Ruth for most of the day. She kept returning to it, wondering if he had really meant to use the phrase he had, wondering if he put the same connotation on it that she did. Living with Tony, which was more or less what she did, was one thing. Marriage was most decidedly another and Ruth was not at all certain she was yet ready to consider it.
Midway through the day, Coral Browne came looking for Ruth again. She was very apologetic and clearly still very embarrassed over what she had overheard the previous day.
"I'm ever so sorry, Ruth," she began, hesitantly. "It does seem that every time Miss Greeves sends me to find you I bring bad news, but I had no idea she was going to do that to you." Ruth blushed, but she could hardly avoid forever the incident that had taken place.
"I probably deserved it." She smiled, trying to reassure Coral, who was obviously almost as unsure of Ruth's motivations as she was of Miss Greeves's.
"You'd better take that as a warning and not do anything to upset Lillian in the near future," Ruth continued. "Otherwise it might be your bottom that suffers next."
"Oh, Ruth, I should die of humiliation! I know I wouldn't be as brave as you and, if my dad ever found out that I'd been beaten on my...on my...well, it would just be the end!"
Ruth knew that Coral still lived with her widowed father.
"Well if the worst did happen, there's no reason why he should find out, unless you tell him. And another thing - what's worse, an embarrassing beating on your bum or losing your job? I suspect he wouldn't be at all pleased if you were out of work. He'd be much more likely to find out that you'd been fired. So you'll just have to behave yourself and take more care, won't you."
Coral did not look very convinced. "I suppose so, but I still think you were very brave. I never thought one of the staff could ever..."
"Which goes to show how little you know." Ruth interrupted. She was tiring of this conversation and certainly did not want to be constantly reminded that she'd been bent over a desk with her panties down like a naughty little girl. "Now what is it, Coral? I am rather busy right now."
"Oh yes, I'm sorry, Ruth. I almost forgot what I had to fetch you for. Miss Greeves says; could you come to her office right now. She has Robin Henderson's father with her and she wants you to meet him."
"Sir Harold Henderson? What does he want and what has it got to do with me?" Ruth's heart sank. She despaired of ever struggling free of the unfortunate incident with her two pupils. It was beginning to hang around her neck like a stone, threatening to blight her career for the foreseeable future. She could only guess that Sir Harold was not fully satisfied with the explanation Miss Greeves had given him, and wanted to make more of it. Suppose he insisted on taking legal action? Her mind began to race. It would mean the end of her career, that was certain, and she was not rich enough to defend a legal action. She could be left without a job and with her savings drained away as well. These, and every other permutation of unpleasant possibilities, went through her mind in the brief time it took for Ruth to make her way to Miss Greeves's office.
Entering the outer office, she heard the sound of voices from the inner sanctum. Bracing herself to face the worst, she knocked on the door and waited. Lillian Greeves herself opened the door.
"Come in, Ruth. I'm glad you were able to spare the time to come and meet Sir Harold."
As if I had a choice, thought Ruth as Lillian stood to one side, beckoning Ruth to enter the room and, at the same time, making a sweeping gesture in the direction of the man who had risen from the self-same chair that Ruth had occupied the previous day. Ruth was taken aback. Lillian's attitude was friendly and Sir Harold Henderson also looked relaxed enough, certainly not like an irate parent about to start a legal action.
"My dear Miss Jamison, such a pleasure to meet you," he boomed, extending a hand the size of a dinner plate. Sir Harold Henderson was instantly recognisable as the father of his son. Like his offspring, he was well over six feet tall, and shared the robust bone structure that gave his son such an attractive, athletic build. Sir Harold was probably in his late forties or early fifties, Ruth judged, and his figure was just beginning to spread. By no means fat, he was carrying just a stone or so more than he would have done in his prime. His son's tan and his carefully coiffed hair were translated into a ruddy complexion, perhaps betraying high blood pressure, and a mane of grey, almost white, hair. He was dressed in a perfectly cut, traditionally styled, lounge suit, which had clearly cost a great deal of money. The rest of his ensemble from his immaculate cream shirt to his highly polished brogues, oozed both high quality and high cost. Altogether, he was an imposing figure, and his hand was dry and warm, with a firm, but not crushing, grip.
Ruth mistrusted men who tried to impress her by squashing her fingers with a handshake as much as she did men with slimy hands. She guessed that Sir Harold felt that he had nothing to prove to the world; he had made good, and presumed that the people with whom he came into contact would also know it, thus he had no need for a false handshake. Perversely, Ruth found herself disliking the man for his overt self-confidence.
"Please sit down, Ruth." Miss Greeves was obviously a little overwhelmed by this larger-than-life figure, and wanted Ruth to sit to encourage Sir Harold to resume his seat and thus not dominate the office quite so effectively.
"Sir Harold and I have been discussing Robin's future," she began. "You know, of course, that he has only one more term left before his final exams, and Sir Harold is concerned that his son's relationship with Nicky Shaw may be prejudicing his chances of success."
Before Ruth could answer, Sir Harold held up his hand, stopping her sentence before it could begin. "I should like to say, before you comment, Miss Jamieson, just how much I appreciate your attempt to put my son on the straight and narrow."
Ruth's jaw dropped in amazement. Could she be hearing correctly? Wasn't this the same man who had complained about the punishment his son had received, and been instrumental in getting Ruth sent to Damocles Priory? An experience about which she still had mixed feelings. Sensing Ruth's bewilderment, he laughed loudly, a discordant braying sound.
"Yes, I know, I did complain about the punishment Robin received when you caught him and that piece of skirt in flagrante, so to speak. But I have since come to realise I was a mite hasty. He deserved what he got, and she most certainly did. I understand from Miss Greeves that everyone concerned, including your good self, may be said to have learned a lesson from that unfortunate affair." He brayed again. "But that is all behind us now, don't you think, Miss Jamieson?"
Ruth tried not to show her feelings but her face felt a little flushed. Her impression of this man was rapidly turning sour. Did she imagine the emphasis on the word 'behind' or was he trying to convey some acquired knowledge of what had transpired? She wondered what Lillian had told him. She trusted Lillian not to betray a confidence but who knows how much this powerful man had bullied out of her, and how much had he guessed? It was clear too, by his contemptuous references to Nicky, that he blamed her for the circumstances which had led to his son's punishment.
"I am certainly glad that you have changed your mind about what happened, Sir Harold," she replied, rather stiffly. "Although I do think you are being a little harsh in your judgment of Nicky Shaw. She is a very well brought-up young lady, and she and Robin actually make quite a good match. It's just that school is not the right place for their relationship to become too serious-"
Sir Harold made a noise in his throat, a cross between a cough and a growl. Ruth got the impression that arguing with his opinion was not going to get her any brownie points.
"That's as may be, "he said sharply, "But I want the boy to do well in his exams without that kind of distraction. That's what I'm here for. I've talked it over with Miss Greeves and it's her recommendation. I must say that, having met you, I agree. I like a young lady with spirit, and I can see you fit the bill."
"Excuse me? I am a little lost. Fit what bill?" Ruth said, bewildered.
"Sir Harold would like a member of staff to provide private tuition for Robin, during the coming break," Lillian Greeves explained. "I said that you might be interested in accepting the commission. Sir Harold is prepared to be most generous," she added, beaming at Ruth.
"Oh, I don't know." Ruth was tempted, to be sure. She earned a good salary from her job, but the prospect of well-paid holiday work would not come amiss, in normal circumstances. But these were not normal circumstances!
"I really don't know." She was hesitant but decided that the warning voice in her head was right. "No, I don't think so, Sir Harold. Thank you for the offer but I really do feel I need my break. Things have been very hectic over the last few weeks, and I really feel I need a break from teaching for a while."
"Hmm. I was afraid you would say that. I know a little about how hectic your life has been, so I suppose I can't blame you."
Ruth immediately wondered again what Lillian Greeves had told this man.
"I hope you don't regret your decision, Miss Jamieson. If you think you have made a mistake when you leave the office, you can contact me here." and he held out a business card.
Ruth noted with some surprise that the address was very close to Damocles Priory. Misinterpreting her raised eyebrow, he explained tersely, "My summer residence. Always go there at this time of year. If you should change your mind, that's where I should want you to tutor Robin. Live in, of course - private apartment for the duration. You'd be very comfortable. I'd see to that personally, and the salary would be more than adequate. I can be very generous."
I'll bet you can, thought Ruth grimly, but you are also a bully, and I don't think I'd enjoy working for you, not one little bit.
"It sounds delightful, Sir Harold, but as I've said, I have other plans. If there's nothing else, I have a class to take. May I go now?"
This latter was addressed to Lillian Greeves, who indicated with an air of some irritation that the interview was over.
* * *
Ruth wondered for the rest of the day whether she had really done the right thing, but went home happy, convinced that she had. As usual, she abandoned her car in the drive of her little house and went straight in, not thinking to lock it. It was only several hours later, just as the light was fading that she remembered. Quickly she grabbed her keys. I'm damned if I'm getting another spanking tonight, she thought. It's about time we had some good, old fashioned straight sex. Tony is getting just too fond of whacking my bottom!
She opened her front door and looked out. The shadows, from the big trees in the park which bordered her property, blotted out what little daylight remained. It didn't occur to her that her car was actually parked in just about the darkest area and was invisible from the road. She walked over to the driver's side and bent down to insert the key in the lock.
Suddenly a strong pair of arms encircled her from behind. Whoever it was must have been very light on their feet, for she had not heard a footfall as her assailant approached. The realisation that she was in deep trouble came to her just as an evil-smelling pad of cotton was placed over her nose. Frantically, she kicked out, one shoe flying off, but the other making a satisfying thud as it connected with the shins of the person holding on to her.
The grip around her waist slackened momentarily but it was too late - Ruth's world was already spinning away into unconsciousness as her struggles weakened. The last thing that passed through her mind before she blacked out was a sense of outrage that this should be happening to her, and, stupidly, that Tony would not get his dinner on time.
2 hours ago