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Arabella And The Rod - Book 1 by John Minden

EXTRACT FOR
Arabella And The Rod - Book 1 
(John Minden)


Arabella and the Rod - Book 1

PROLOGUE

 

The two young women shared the sunlit glade, their horses quietly cropping the grass as the girls took their seat on a mossy bank, dry and soft now in the Midsummer warmth. The long skirts of their riding habits just failed to over the tips of their elegant leather boots, while the frogged silk jackets served to emphasise rather than conceal their narrow waists and swelling breasts, their natural curves thrown into even greater prominence by the new fashion for tight lacing and boned corsetry that had displaced the loose exuberance of the Directoire. Gone were the high waisted muslin gowns of the Regency and females of all classes now submitted their bodies to the bondage of whalebone stitched so tightly, one strip beside another, that they formed a solid carapace. This time around, unlike the straight silhouette of the seventeen-nineties, the satin and whalebone armour flared over the hips from wasp waists and no longer compressed the breasts, but carried them roundly din half cups high on the chest.

Though they affected the same style of dress, as befitted young ladies of wealth and fashion, they made a complementary rather than a matched pair, one blonde, soft featured and demure, the other taller, crowned by a mass of rich auburn hair above her unmistakeably aristocratic features which habitually wore a look of eagerness and animation. She spoke.

“Only a week now, Mary, and you’ll be spreading your legs in your marriage bed.  Still, Arthur’s a good fellow and will be gentle with you which will be as well, seeing that you’ll be going to him virgin. I wish you both great happiness and I dare say you’ll find it together but the married state is not for me. I have so much I want to taste and touch yet.”

“Sometimes, dearest Arabella, you remind me of a man.”

Her tall companion turned a look of mock surprise upon her fair friend.

“Well, then, Mary mine, it must be men’s bodies that you lack knowledge of, for you’re certainly very familiar with mine. I can assure you I’m all woman, and not in the least like the male sex.”

“Don’t twit me so. You know perfectly well that I admire your lovely body for just that femininity. I’m talking about your recklessness and yearning for adventure. You’re just like that brother of yours.” She smiled fondly, betraying perhaps a certain interest in the young man in question. “He’s always into some devilment or other and so are you. He’d make a wager on anything, offer to fight any comers with fists, sword or pistol for the sheer hell of it, and be off to cross a desert or climb a mountain or any other challenge that came his way. If it were not for the fact that Ladies simply do not do such things, I believe you would be off on the same madcap adventure at the drop of a hat. Indeed, I cannot understand why you submit so readily to the tyranny of the corset. I thought you, of all women, would rebel.”

“By no means. My stays give me a feeling of restraint and reassurance without which I shudder to think of what I might do. Mama has often spoken of the libertine effect of the loose gowns she wore in Prinny’s days, when more than laces were loosened, she tells me. In such attire I dare not think of what follies I might be capable, but the firm hold of my corset is always there to quell my thrusting nature. As to my adventurous nature, why there, sweet Mary, you may have made a point.”

“And then,” her voice acquiring a more serious tone, she continued, “I do indeed hanker for excitement, and envy the men, that they can indulge their adventurous impulses. I would like to give and receive challenges, and pit my resolve and resources against others.”

Mary looked shocked. “But that would be so unladylike! Society would be scandalised, and how would you find a husband if you behaved like that?”

“Oh, pooh to society” Arabella replied, with a toss of her chestnut mane. “I don’t give a fig for their opinion and as to husbands, I’d rather do without one if I can’t find a man who wants me as I am.”

“But do you not hanker for a man’s love?”

Arabella smiled. “Love. What’s that? I have not met it yet. I have met lust, though, and I recognise that in myself as well as in men, and have had great joy of it. Perhaps I’ll recognise love too, when it comes along but that is yet to be.”

Once more shock registered on her companion’s face. Could it be that it was tinged with delicious excitement?

“Arabella! You can’t mean that you have let men have their way with you! How could you endure it, and what if you should get a child? You would be ruined.”

“Silly goose! It is nothing to be endured.” she laughed. “Tis the greatest sport if the man has any imagination or the woman any sense. As to avoiding a swollen belly, there are ways!”

“How can that be? Everyone knows that if you let a man discharge inside your womb you’ll like as not bear a child nine months later.”

Her friend regarded her with a considering look. “I really cannot decide if I should educate you in these ways or not. You are such an innocent, Mary, that I wonder if I should not leave you so, to marry still a virgin and raise your brood happily ever after. Such a life is not for me, or at any rate, not until I’ve had my fill of men and adventures.” She shrugged. “On the other hand I can’t see you running after men, even if you did not fear pregnancy, and perhaps when you are married you’d welcome the means to slow the stream of brats.”

“Yes, please tell.” Mary pleaded. “I do so want children when I marry but I wouldn’t like to become so tired and broken down as some I’ve seen. My cousin Louise is only a few years older than I, but could be my mother, so worn is she by five babies in as many years.”

“Why then, it’s simple. Apart from offering your lover your rear opening, which many delight in, you use a slip of sponge. My old nurse came from Sicily, where my mother found her when Father was at the Consulate in Palermo. Women of the Mediterranean have used the trick since Homer’s time. You soak the sponge in olive oil and slide it up your love tunnel until it covers the entrance to your womb, and all will be well.”

“So that’s how it’s done.” the fair girl smiled. “No wonder you dare so much.”

The chestnut tresses tossed again.

“Oh, it’s not just games with the men I seek. I look for other challenges, other trials, other dangers even. I have no use for dice or cards for money, that means nothing to me, but I would hazard myself, to test my strength and endurance and find their limits, to gamble with my body as the counter.”

“Arabella dearest, don’t say such things. You quite frighten me” and then her curiosity winning the battle with her fear, as is usually the way with women, “and how can you test yourself so, and without being ruined by scandal?”

“Well, as to scandal, I can be as discreet as the next woman, better than most of our acquaintances, I dare swear, but in any case, why should I care? I shall be twenty-five tomorrow and come into the inheritance my Grandmother left me.” she smiled contentedly. “I cannot touch the estate, the trustees will see to that, and therein lies my security, but the income is large and mine to do with as I please, so you see, I can snap my fingers at them all: men, scandal-cats and Society, and seek out excitement where I please.”

“And what form will that excitement take?” asked Mary, round-eyed.

“Why, that we shall have to see.” said Arabella thoughtfully, sitting up and putting her hands behind her neck. The movement lifted her firm breasts, already upthrust by the tight corset with its lace-edged cups. She tilted back her head, exposing her long white neck and continued thoughtfully, as if to the sky.

“I think I have missed something in my life to date. It’s been very happy in many ways, and I’ve lacked for nothing but I’ve not been extended either. I don’t know what it is to suffer pain and learn to bear it. I haven’t faced danger or discomfort. I think I will use my coming independence to explore these things and my inner self. How or where I don’t know, but I shall be constantly on the watch and seize the moment when it comes.” Her mood changed abruptly. “Enough of this daydreaming.” Springing up, she grasped Mary’s hand and hauled the slight blonde girl to her feet. “Fetch your horse. We are due at Caston House in half an hour and we mustn’t keep Aunt Julia waiting for her tea.”

Two minutes later, tall red head and small blonde departed and the glade fell still again.


CHAPTER 1

 

DOMESTIC DISCIPLINE

 

Boredom had driven her out. She had no patience with the silly girls, lost as they were to anything other than the assessment and acquisition of husbands, and the futilities of fashion. So she’d excused herself on the pretext that she felt a touch of the megrims, for which she had always found fresh air a sovereign remedy, and had sent for her groom to prepare her horse. Now, the idle chatter of the house party left behind, the Lady Arabella Dymphna Gregory-Rawlings cantered through the sun dappled woodlands. Her long trailing riding habit concealed the slim thigh hooked over the horn of the side-saddle on which she was seated, and hung down to cover the trim booted foot in the left hand stirrup. She rode with straight back, from good breeding and firm whaleboning, her jacket open in the warm summer air. The sights and sounds of burgeoning nature all around made her feel alive in every part of her being and she rode with a feeling of excitement as if she might meet with adventure at each new turn of the path.

Presently she emerged above a little river, a village just to her right and hard by the stream below her, a building that appeared to be the communal wash house where several women were arriving with their loads, and others were standing by, apparently in animated discussion. Arabella rode down the slope and, not wishing to get involved with the villagers, kept a little to one side so as to reach the river bank just behind the wash house where, screened by bushes, she let the horse drink from the clear stream.

As she sat there quietly, letting him have his fill, she became aware of women’s voices on the other side of the bushes.

“I reckon as how it’ll be a rare contest today, Peg. There’s some fine strong women entering.” This from a deep country voice.

“Raw you might say for some of them before it’s over.” This sounded like a younger woman. “There’ll be some well-cooked bums around here this afternoon. Are you putting yours up, Nan?”

“No, I’ll keep my shilling to myself, though I might wager it later on someone like that big Betty. How about you then? You going to put your arse up?”

“Got to, haven’t I? My Ma says if I don’t have a go, now I’m eighteen, she’ll skin my backside for me herself, so I might just as well have a go in there as at Ma’s. At least I’ll have the satisfaction of having a go at one or two of the other girls on the way.”

Arabella listened, spell bound. She had heard passing reference from the maids, many of whom were village girls, to these whipping contests in country parts, but she’d never actually come across one before. As she understood them, the women all put a small sum, though no doubt large enough to them in their near poverty, into a pool, it seemed to be a shilling a head, or rather bum in this case. A knock-out contest followed, until the eventual winner scooped the pool.

The women were still talking. “I always enjoys a good tussle between two strong women. It needs a country woman for this sport. I can’t see one of those fine pieces up at the Hall taking stripes on her bare arse. They’d have a fit of the vapours.”

“You don’t know everything, young Peg. When I was in service a few years back, before I married Tom, I heard and saw things you wouldn’t believe. Sir Roderick was a stickler for discipline and that went for everyone in the household, from the lowest kitchen maid to Lady Meredith herself.”

“You’re telling me Lady Meredith was beaten for her faults just like anyone else?” Peg’s voice was unbelieving.

“Oh yes, indeed she was. And quite often too. We always guessed when, for the Master would ring for the Butler and her Ladyship’s maid together. They never told, being loyal servants, but we knew all right.” Nan laughed. “There’s not much goes on in a big house like that, what the servants don’t find out sooner rather than later. They always know who’s slipped into someone’s bed at night, which girls are missing a maidenhead, and who’s missed her monthlies and is in a muck sweat lest her belly should begin to swell.”

The listener on the horse made a mental note to be a little more discreet. When you’ve been born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and been surrounded by servants all your life, it is only too easy to forget that they have eyes and ears, and tongues too.

“Oh Nan, go on. What happened? Did you ever see it? Do tell.” No disbelief now, Peg’s voice was full of eagerness.

“Yes I did see it once, and it was this way. The Master and Mistress were to go to visit nearby. Her Ladyship’s personal maid had been given leave to visit her Father, who was sick, and was to be away overnight, and I was appointed in her place. I’d often helped with her dressing and hair and suchlike, and I think she liked me. Indeed if I’d not married Tom I think I might have got on and, perhaps, even got to travel with her Ladyship and seen the world, Paris even. Paris, that’s what I’d always wanted, but I got married instead.”

“But what happened? Oh Nan, stop being such a tease and tell me what happened.” Peg could hardly contain herself.

“Well, as I said, they’d been to dine at friends, and when they got back, it was obvious the Master was not best pleased and her Ladyship looked very contrite. We learned from the coachman, after, that he’d accused her of flirting with a young man at dinner, and she couldn’t deny it. Anyway, they’d been home about ten minutes when the bells go for the Butler and the Lady’s maid, that’s me of course that night. All the servants in the hall begin to snigger and make remarks about raw rump steaks and suchlike, but the Butler quells them with his best frosty look. ‘Come on, Nancy,’ he says, ‘We’ve got business to attend to.’” She sniffed. “Some of those servants had no proper respect for their betters. Didn’t deserve no place in a good house.”

“And what happened when you got upstairs?”

“We goes up to the Blue Drawing-room and there was the Master, standing in front of the fire lifting his coat-tails to warm his backside, and her Ladyship standing a little way off, trying to ignore the fact that her backside was about to get warmed too. ‘Ah, Stevens,’ says she, ‘I am to be chastised. Sir Roderick feels that my offence calls for a salutary fustigation, so go and fetch a long crop from the stables. And Nancy, please help me out of my clothes in readiness for correction.’”

Peg could not contain herself. “You mean she had to take it on the bare?” she interrupted, breathless with excitement.

“Yes, bare as a babe, or at any rate the part that mattered. I helped her off with her gown and petticoats until she stood in just her corset and chemise.”

“What! Nothing else? No drawers?”

“Why, she still wore her silk stockings and little pumps with heels, but she never held with drawers, and most Ladies still don’t. Nasty modern French things they are and no good is likely to come to girls what wear them. I hope you’ve got no uppity ideas about wearing drawers, my girl.” admonished the older woman.

“Oh no, I knows me place,” answered the girl, placatingly. “but I thought all the fine ladies were wearing them now.”

“Not all. Even now, some holds to decent ways still. Anyway, as I was saying, there’s her Ladyship, standing in her stays and chemise. She was, still is for that, a very fine figure of a woman, not yet thirty at that time, tall, slim but with good meat in all the right places, as you could see, as she had on the very finest of silk chemises, it being worn under evening dress, and cut very low, relying on the lace at the top of her décolletage to keep her nipples covered, so now they peeped above the corset top and gave her away.

“She had been standing all unconcerned, as if just undressing to go to bed, rather than to be whipped, for it’s not done for ladies to show their feelings, but her fine pink teats had hardened with her fear of what was coming. Even though her beautiful face showed nothing but indifference as we all stood and waited.”

Arabella was agog to hear more, and so it seemed was young Peg, who could not restrain her curiosity.

“So what happened next?” she burst out.

The excitement of her tale was beginning to affect the teller too.

“After a few minutes the Butler returned bringing a very vicious whalebone whip, about three feet long, with a plaited leather grip. At the sight of it Milady’s expression didn’t change, but I could see that she turned a little pale.

“Sir Roderick waved one hand at Mr. Stevens. ‘Madam is to have two dozen,’ says he, ‘Well laid on. None of the tickles you give the maids. This is a strong, well-bred woman and she needs a full blooded whipping. I want her to feel proper contrition, preferably in her arse and for at least a week, whenever she sits.’

‘Very good, Sir Roderick,’ says the butler, ‘Would you be good enough to take up your position, Milady, if you please?’”

Peg could not contain her astonishment. “You mean to say the Butler was to do it?”

“Oh yes. Sir Roderick never did anything for himself, other than at sport or in bed. He often said it was the duty of rich men to let their servants do everything, to give them employment.”

“But what did her Ladyship think?” persisted Peg. “Surely she objected to the Butler using the whip on her?”

“Oh no. She was a General’s daughter, and had been brought up to accept duty and discipline, and unquestioning obedience to one’s superior officer, which meant, in her case, her husband. She would never have questioned his authority, and especially,” Nan added with emphasis,” not in front of the servants.”

“She must have been a bit of a mouse.” sniffed Peg.

“Not on your life.” Nan defended her Lady indignantly.” She was the most spirited and lively person you ever met, but she believed in discipline and order, and the Quality setting an example for lesser folks.”

“All right. Don’t take offence,” said Peg, quickly, “I know how much you respected her. One thing about having the butler do it, he’d hold back a bit, her being a Lady an’ all, so she’d be better off than if Sir Roderick did it himself.”

“Don’t you believe it, my girl,” came the reply, “Mr. Stevens was a very strong man, with a wrist on him like a steel spring, and he kept it in trim on our backsides. He carried out all the punishments in the servant’s hall personally, and I can tell you I blubbed like a baby every time he did me.” Peg looked suitably respectful for, before she gave it up, the older woman had done very well in the periodical village whipping contests, and had a reputation as a ‘good stayer’.

“And what’s more,” Nan continued, “he was Sir Roderick’s man, not her Ladyship’s, and would consider it his duty to carry out his Master’s instructions to the letter. Besides, I do believe he enjoyed it the more that it was an upper-class ass he was carving.”

“So what happened then?”