Monday, April 25, 2011

From the Top Shelf - A Letter

Today we have another selection from When the Master Speaks by Josephine Scott. It is the first of a series of letters written in 1869 to Sophie by her sister Clarisse.

My dear sister,

Sister, I have felt rage from Papa before, when I broke the fine china dish that was his mother's wedding present to him; when I did stand knee deep in the river and search for fish, my skirts held up in a shameful and wanton fashion (so Papa said) and I felt then the terrible force of his rage and the terrible sting of the strap.

But stay, let me not think of the strap for a brief moment, though the whistle of its falling echoes loud within my head. Perhaps that is why I write this letter to you, to purge such thoughts and also in the hope that one day I will be free to send it to you and you will know what became of your sister Clarisse after I ran away.

Papa told me to clean the brass in the church. I went with a bad heart for I do so hate the brass in our church... It is too carved and intricate...and Papa likes to have every corner gleaming! So I was in the church polishing away when Peter James came in from the farm.

Clarisse and Peter are caught in an unseemly embrace when her father appears unexpectedly. Peter flees and Clarisse is locked in the church alone overnight to ponder her fate. In the morning,

And Papa came. He came with Verger Pearson, a hard man with no mercy in his eyes... There was Peter James' master Farmer Gray, the blacksmith, with Joseph Olberon from the Plough Inn, and with cold Mister Tilling from the village.

The elders gathered in one place. Papa locked the door behind them and they stood, cold and hard and yet smiling. How the elders do love a punishment, most especially when it be a fresh young woman to receive the strap...

Joseph Oberon produced ropes from a pocket. Farmer Gray took a bench from the back of the church and stood it in the centre and Papa took my arms and dragged me to the bench and pushed me down so I laid along it. Mr Olberon took my wrists and ankles and tied them to the legs of the bench so there was no way I could escape. My face was pressed against the cold scratchy wood and I was much afeared then, sister, I can assure you!

"What think you, gentlemen?" Papa sounded so satisfied, and they had not even begun!

"I think we should beat the Devil out of her." That was Mister Tilling.

And even as I lay uncomfortable flat on the bench, my face pressed down, my body waiting for what would surely come, I felt a move to laugh aloud, for surely they knew afore they came that they would beat me...

And I knew too that it was said to put fear in my mind and trembling in my body. And it did.

"You be the oldest here, may I suggest you start?" Papa, how kind you were to delay your own pleasure for so long! My skirts were ripped away by a firm hand I could not see. My pantaloons were down and I laid,  bare and waiting and much ashamed, before the gathered eyes of the elders. I am sure my cheeks were much flushed, for sure my face was.

Old Mister Tilling may be an old man, but be sure he has a firm arm, especially when that arm ends with a strap well worn by Papa on our backsides over the years. Ten times old  Mister Tilling lashed me with that strap and ten times I cried out.

But oh that was nothing to Mister Olberon who is much strengthened with the lifting of barrels of ale and pulling of the pints in the Plough every night! Twice as hard and half across my thighs did Mister Olberon strap me and I knew for sure I would not easily forget this!

And Adam Smith, hands well strengthened with all the work of the forge, strapped me even harder, were that possible. But of course I grew sorer as each blow landed and went across those already there. For all that I was already hurting and afire with the awful strap I knew he was stronger even than Mister Olberon.

Awash with tears, sister, I awaited the Farmer for he too had a strong arm, and I was not mistaken, how I screamed as the strap hit me another ten times.

And Verger Pearson, he looks like a weak man, perhaps that was why he came near to last when I was red sore and weeping heartily and crying out for mercy even though I knew there was none there, these men were the elders and I had offended against their church, and Verger Pearson laid on his ten with a firm hand that near broke me.

And then it was Papa's turn and he put into it all he had in him, all his anger and he lashed me so hard I thought the strap would break on me!


So Sophie dear, I crept away with a bundle of clothes and [went to] the railway station... And sister, I pray that you never have to suffer at the hands of the elders as I did, for the bruises took a month to go.

Because -- a small confession comes here that is for my eyes alone, on a page I will never send -- I dream of that thrashing and I am aflame with desire.

From Hermione's Heart


Anonymous said...

Thank you for finding this letter and sharing it with us.

ronnie said...

I think I would have run away after a punishment liker that.

Thanks for sharing the letter with us.


Hermione said...

Joey - I'm glad you liked it.

Ronnie - Me too.