Tuesday, September 19, 2017

From the Top Shelf - In a Mist, Chapter 2

The story so far: Arthur Lennox, a young tutor in pre-war England, has been appointed to oversee the belated schooling—and discipline—of the headstrong and petulant Elizabeth.

IN A MIST - Chapter 2 - Elizabeth meets her tutor—and her match!

From downstairs in the dining hall came the clink of silver cutlery. Florence was laying for dinner. She moved reverently across the polished oak floor, pursing her lips in silent concentration as though burdened by the enormous weight of her duties. She began to set a third place for Elizabeth's tutor, sighing in vexation at having to depart from her long-established routine.

Elizabeth took far longer than usual over her evening toilette. She planned to subdue Mr. Lennox with her female charms so that he would blush and stammer awkwardly in her presence.

Earlier in the day she had washed her hair, afterwards brushing it painstakingly until the honey-blonde filaments gleamed and sparkled like gold amid their darker lustrous neighbours. She arranged it loosely in soft curls that tumbled down her back, while over her forehead she wore a gamine fringe.

Although expressly forbidden by her guardian to use make-up, since according to him only "fast women" painted their faces, she defiantly applied mascara to her eyelashes, and a dab or two of rouge to colour her cheeks.

Then came the question of what to wear. After a long agony of indecision she finally plumped for a stunning cream chiffon gown, cut daringly low at the breast and short enough to show off her dainty ankles and calves clad in white silk stockings. For her feet, a pair of high-heeled pumps, with fashionably pointed toes.

A good ten minutes after the dinner gong had sounded in the hall she was at last ready, exquisitely jewelled and fragrant with French perfume. She sailed downstairs, her undergarments rustling proudly, and prepared to make her grand entrance.

The first person she saw as she swept into the Regency style dining hall was Florence, hovering nervously beside the bulbous-legged serving table. She had been waiting for Elizabeth to arrive before serving the tomato soup, which in consequence had now grown unappetisingly tepid.

"Ah, here you are at last!" Mr. Harker cried peevishly. "Late as ever! I had hoped the arrival of your tutor" he indicated Mr. Lennox seated opposite at the large round mahogany dining table, "might have encouraged you to mend your slipshod ways. Come and say how do you do to him."

"I'm sure Mr. Lennox is aware that lateness is a woman's prerogative," she retorted with a smouldering pout in the direction of the tall newcomer. It was an opening salvo which she'd carefully rehearsed up in her bedroom. As he met her eye she was annoyed to see a brief flicker of amusement cross his face. The prospect of meeting him had filled Elizabeth with nervous dread which she was desperately trying to hide beneath an outward show of bravado.

"Prerogatives are simply privileges, and privileges have to be earned in this world, Elizabeth," Mr. Harker admonished, looking to Lennox for support and who nodded vigorously in agreement. Pausing for breath he went on scolding her in his thin reedy voice that she found so tiresome.

"You cannot expect people to do you the courtesy of treating you like the grown woman you are in years, until you actually begin to behave like one." He sighed wearily. "Which brings us to the subject of why Mr. Lennox is here. I do earnestly hope that he will succeed where others before him have so miserably failed!"

"As for that, Uncle, we shall have to see, shan't we, Mr. Lennox?" she said challengingly, turning to confront her tutor. "I must warn you that I am by no means an easy pupil. I trust your constitution is as sound as a bell, otherwise I fear I may be the death of you!" She burst into peals of merriment while her guardian clicked his tongue at her insolence.

"Have no fear on that score. No pupil has ever got the better of me yet, Elizabeth," Lennox replied with a breezy confidence, scrutinising the girl so intently that she blushed and pretended to study the soup Florence was ladling into her dish. His deep bass voice, so resonant with male strength, had a curiously disquieting effect, not only on Elizabeth but on Florence who fumbled agitatedly with the ladle in her hand, spilling soup down Mr. Harker's sleeve.

"Clumsy, stupid girl," he murmured in irritation, "fetch a cloth at once and wipe it off." Stammering her apologies, the maid did as she was told, her underwear swishing almost as loudly as Elizabeth's.

Hating to be upstaged, and eager to shift the focus of attention away from herself, Elizabeth stared accusingly at the skirts of Florence's black alpaca uniform. "Uncle," she said spitefully, " I do believe Florence is wearing silk underwear."

"Is this true, Florence?" Mr. Harker eyed the maid severely. "You know very well that I have strictly forbidden the female servants to wear silk undergarments. I cannot abide their perpetual rustling; besides which I believe they provoke lusts in the male servants. Well, Florence, what have you got to say for yourself?" he demanded in a scratchy, petulant voice. Lennox found it hard to suppress a chuckle at such a comical charade as this. He had met some old-fashioned types in his time, but Mr. Harker really took the cake!

"If you please, sir," Florence stammered, conscious of being stared at by three pairs of eyes, "it's only artificial silk, sir. I could never afford real silk - not on my wages."

"Are you insinuating that the wages I pay you are inadequate?" Mr. Harker demanded indignantly. Poor Florence had put her foot in it yet again.

"Oh no, Mr. Harker, sir! I never meant that at all!" she protested in great alarm. "My wages are ample and most generous, sir."

"Very well then, Florence," Mr.Harker rejoined, a trifle mollified, " but I shall have strong words to say to Mrs. Anderson about your clumsiness—and your choice of underwear—after the meal."

Florence turned red and bit her lower lip. She knew that Mrs. Anderson, the grim iron-willed Scottish housekeeper, would turn her over to Mr. Tomms for yet another thrashing with his belt. Her eyes narrowed and she glanced hatefully at Miss Elizabeth, the architect of her predicament. Miss high-and-mighty Elizabeth, who always wore real silk next to her pampered skin, as Florence well knew from all the long hours she'd spent laundering her mistress's exquisitely fine silk, satin and lace underwear. Florence had to scrimp and save hard to pay for the one precious pair of artificial silk panties she was now wearing—such indescribable luxury compared to her regulation calico bloomers—and for which she was now to be punished.

Fortunately for Florence her existence was barely noticed during the remainder of the dinner. While they were consuming the main course of veal cutlets and vegetables, Mr. Harker questioned Lennox more closely about his journey. Travel was unquestionably one of Mr Harker's bete noirs, especially railway travel: "...nasty, noisy, smelly things, trains, are they not, Mr. Lennox? I myself am quite incapable of using them. I once went to Torquay by train, and was confined to bed for a month afterwards. And how was your stay in London? Was the hotel satisfactory? I trust the room was clean and the bed properly aired? And was Tomms waiting for you on the platform when you arrived here? Did he drive cautiously? I fear he is a dreadful madcap on the roads, but he has been with us for over twenty years and , quite honestly, I don't think we could ever manage without him now -even though he can be a little grumpy at times...."

Elizabeth, who had finished her veal, yawned and fiddled in excruciated boredom. She looked across the table at Mr. Lennox , who sat patiently listening, a wearied look creeping over his face as Mr. Harker's monologue showed no sign of ending. She began to mimic Lennox's pained expression, making fun of him. He caught her doing it, and she saw a sudden brief flash of anger in his eyes, which frightened, yet at the same time excited, her.

Later on, as the three of them were finishing their caramel pudding, Elizabeth, full of the devil again, began to bait Lennox mercilessly. "Do please tell me, Mr. Lennox," she purred, wide-eyed and innocent, " what do you propose to do with me when I am naughty?" She smiled sweetly, as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, although she was testing him out—seeing how far she could go with him.

But Lennox refused to be drawn on the subject. "Such matters, Elizabeth," he said with unruffled calm, " are best dealt with where they belong—in the schoolroom. I request the honour of your presence there at half past nine tomorrow morning, when we shall no doubt get to know each other better." He eagerly accepted Mr. Harker's offer of more pudding and set about it with a will, as though nothing else mattered in the whole world.

Elizabeth felt intensely piqued. He had, with quiet but devastating efficiency, put her firmly in her place. "That's a pretty feeble answer to a simple question, Mr. Lennox," she persisted obstinately. "If I am to be your pupil, surely I am entitled to know in advance what to expect? For instance, say I were to fall asleep over my sums—for I detest arithmetic above all else—would you then be most fearfully strict with me, and punish me severely?" She fluttered her long eyelashes at him ,and gave a coquettish little wriggle in her chair.

Even Lennox, with all his tutoring experience, was taken aback. He could not remember a girl pupil ever being quite so disgracefully forward at their first meeting. Struggling to contain his anger, he replied sharply , "Let us just say, Elizabeth, that when the situation arises I am quite capable of ruling even my most troublesome pupils with a rod of iron. Since I have successfully tamed dozens of large, strapping young men—one of whom, incidentally, even challenged me to put on boxing gloves and go ten rounds in the gymnasium—I hardly imagine I shall have much difficulty coping with a mere slip of a girl like you!"

"Oh, so I am just a 'mere slip of a girl', am I?" Elizabeth cried, seething with anger and rising from her chair. "Well, let me tell you, Mr. Lennox," she shouted, flinging her napkin down on the table like a gauntlet thrown in defiance, "I do not care a brass farthing for you, or any of your silly threats. You may be in the school room at half past nine tomorrow morning, if you wish. But as for me, I shall please myself!"

So saying, she stormed out of the room, amid impotent bewailings from her guardian and darkly-knit brows from Mr. Lennox, who decided this was much worse than he would ever have expected. He was still smarting from the verbal assault just made on him. The girl had plainly been allowed to run wild, without the slightest hint of discipline. He would have to employ quite draconian measures to have any chance of succeeding with her.

"There, you see what I mean, Lennox?" Mr. Harker cried despairingly. "The girl is quite unmanageable! Forever flying into tantrums at the slightest provocation. I swear she will drive me to an early grave!"

"To be plain with you, sir," Lennox could speak freely now there were only two of them in the room, Florence having departed with the dishes to the kitchen, "your ward, Elizabeth, should have had her bottom soundly whipped many times over, when she was younger. However, it is not too late in the day to rectify that omission. What do you say, Mr.Harker?" he put the question to him squarely. "Do I have your full permission to use corporal punishment on Elizabeth?"

"By all means, Lennox, do whatever you deem necessary. I leave the matter entirely in your most capable hands. You, after all, are the expert!" Mr. Harker felt intensely relieved that here, at last, was someone fully willing and able to curb the waywardness of his troublesome ward. The thought gave him a feeling of immense satisfaction. That night he slept better than he had done for years.

What will tomorrow bring? Stay tuned.
From Hermione's Heart


Cat said...

I do believe Elizabeth has pushed her luck and met her match. Am looking forward to seeing her get her comeuppance. LOL Thanks for sharing, Hermione.

Hugs and blessings...Cat

opsimath said...

Many thanks once again, Hermione; this is turning out to be even better than i was hoping!

You really do bring us the best in uninhibited writing, of which Alex was, of course, a master.

I look forward to more revelations in Chapter Three.

Roz said...

Hi Hermione, really enjoying this story, thank you :) Boy, Elizabeth certainly is more than a handful! I'm with Cat, I think she will find she has met her match. Then again, I get the feeling she wants someone strong who can handle her for a change.

Looking forward to reading more :)


Katie said...

Hi Hermione, :) I too am enjoying this story. Elizabeth sure is a handful!! I do believe that she has met her match! Something tells me that sitting will be no easy feat.

Poor Florence! Get that girl some silk panties! I felt bad for her. Fun story! Thanks, Hermione! Many hugs,

❤️ Katie

Hermione said...

Cat - I agree, she was really over the top, and obviously hints at corporal punishment.

Opsimath - This is one of the best stories that Alex presented on his blog.

Roz - I like the way she is just a little afraid of him. She knows it will be a battle of wills.

Katie - It seems that spanking is common among the servants. aAybe Elizabeth is jealous!


ronnie said...

Hermione, thanks for sharing. She certainly will deserve her bottom spanked. Looking forward to more of this story. As I said last week, really very well written.


Hermione said...

Ronnie - I agree, it's a fine piece of writing. I am often tempted to shorten the stories that I post, to remove superfluous detail, but in this case I think every word should be retained.