Curious Customs

04Sep18

steampunk customsAngram was a great city, there was no denying that. Until she had left Worchester the tallest building Katherine Amelia Jackman had seen was the stockman warehouse on quayside, which was a full storey higher than the temple on Briar Street. To a native of her province, the Iron Maiden that had brought her to Angram was a goliath, having dominated the respectable sized harbour of her provincial capital with its topmost funnel overmatching even the warehouse.

Katherine herself had never thought to leave Worchester, perhaps marrying a man of the middling sort who would appreciate her education. Her parents had always said such a man would have to be a saint to steer the course between her priggish solemnities and by turns her fiery temper; this latter trait no doubt a consequence of her reddish-brown hair. But the idea had never appealed so much and at the age of 25, a spinster by some reckonings, an opportunity had arisen.

Now she was confronted with perhaps the greatest city in the world and she stood on the steamer’s deck awestruck. The Iron Maiden was dwarfed next to even the lesser of the towers abutting the harbour and beyond them she could see even greater columns of brick and iron extending so high that they seemed to hold up the sky. Even more spectacular were the nimble bridges of fine steel strung between some of these elevated buildings. Many of them were wrought into elegant spirals and figurines, some so high that pedestrians and carriage riders alike must often faint from vertigo.

Just then a sleek steam train raced across one of the mid-level crossways like a great needle weaving between the spindle spires of the surrounding towers. Above it an airship ducked between two high buildings lost in the clouds and Katherine gasped. Only once before had she seen one and that had been far out to sea. There were none at all in her humble province, where all travel was by train or the occasional steam-carriage.

“Oh the Gods,” Katherine muttered.

“What was that Ma’am?” a gruff sailor asked. He was careless of the view and had begun hauling up luggage from the cabin decks below.

Katherine blushed. She rarely swore and to do so before a man was heinous. She ought to be whipped. Her mother certainly would have thrashed her, gown woman or no.

Getting no answer, the sailor muttered fare worse curses than anything Katherine had ever heard and went about his business.

The Iron Maiden did not stop at the cargo quay on the sea front, but instead made a steady turn and pressed on up the wider of the two rivers that fed into the ocean there. Here there were 10 dozen other craft of all shapes and functions and Katherine could see that the Iron Maiden was barely average in her size compared to some of the titans plying their trade.

“The Merry River runs on to Esteron they say ma’am,” the sailor put in as he dropped the last of the bags and took out his pipe. “Never been there myself, but they say it is mighty pretty.”

Katherine nodded, unsettled by this familiarity from one of the lower orders.

“The Maiden puts in at Spry Port in about 25 minutes ma’am, you have just time to pack up your cabin, if you might have missed anything that is,” the sailor said through a puff. He wasn’t looking at her now and his gaze was drawn to the city just as hers was. It was, after all, quite literally awesome.

*

The servant that met her on the quay was a curious young woman. Above the waist she wore a fine styled bodice, albeit one cut from a coarse woollen material, but her lower half was all figure-hugging breeches, like a boy. The bowler hat, Katherine was yet to learn, whilst not exclusive to the servant class, was a kind of badge of such positions; the colour and quality reflecting their exact place in the hierarchy.

The hat hid the girl’s hair, which if cut short was a sign of a lower station, making it hard to guess at her position. However, the dust goggles wrapped around the bowler suggested that she might be a chauffeur of some kind.

“Mistress Jackman?” the girl asked and respectfully tapped her hat with a finger. Her accent was clear like an educated person, or what passed for one in Worchester, but there was an odd tang at the end of her words, so that the mainland of her sentence was followed by a faint island of ‘uuunnn’ as if the girl was about to speak more.

“I am Katherine Jackman,” Katherine said imperiously. She pondered whether or not she should ask the girl if her mother knew she was dressed in such a manner. Then she saw that amid the growing crowd coming to meet the steamer, more than half the women wore trousers of one kind or another.

“I’m Clip, Ma’am, Lady Gospel appointed me as your servant until you can make arrangements of your own. Assuming I don’t suit you that is. Lady Gospel told me to make it clear that I am your servant not hers, if you know what I mean.” The last word ended with that same ‘uunn’ sound.

“Not really,” Katherine looked confused. “Clip you say? Is that an odd name? I can’t tell so much, I mean given where we are.”

“Oh no Ma’am, a good servant name, short and memorable, had it since I was plucked from the workhouse and rescued by the Retainer Guild.” Clip smiled with pride.

Katherine had heard of the Retainer Guild, it trained career servants and in Worchester only the very, very rich employed such people. “And how much am I paying you?” she asked.

A hint of a shadow of pity crossed Clip’s face, which was otherwise cheerfully neutral and she coughed. “Oh Ma’am, such things are never discussed, believe me all is in hand. As a matter of fact Lady Gospel paid my life bond and assigned it you. I am newly bonded see, you have a year and a day to keep me or pass me on. That is never spoken of either, by the way, so may I…” Clip winced as if considering her next words very carefully, “Tentatively suggest that you don’t mention that to anyone, least of all Lady Gospel. It is just a matter of…” Clip had a sinking feeling, she was about to tell her mistress how to suck eggs it seemed. Her bottom tingled.

“Etiquette?” Katherine supplied.

“Exactly so,” Clip beamed. “Now Ma’am, may I take your bags?”

*

The suite of rooms Lady Gospel had provided for Katherine were grand by Worchester standards and opened out on to a sizeable terrace. From the full-length opening windows there was a view of sorts, the towering building across the way being much further than she had otherwise observed. Nor were there any bridges or railway viaducts adjacent, on that side anyway.

Walking through the glass doors to take a closer Katherine was just thinking that she could get used to this when she saw how high up she was. It must have been near a thousand feet down to an elaborate series of roof gardens and the gods only knew how far below those the ground was. Then she looked up to see that above her a narrower spired tower rose by the same height again.

“Tower Park, Ma’am,” Clip told her casually as she followed her new mistress onto the terrace. “Down there I mean. The buildings all facing Park Boulevard are where much of elite live,” she continued.

“There are no sky craft or airships or even… well any of it,” Katherine blurted and waved a hand. On their journey there the high buildings had stood close by with chaos presiding among the city’s urban canyons. As walkways competed with viaducts at all levels with flying cars and at least one airship, it had been hard to make out a pattern in all that steam and smoke and noise.

“Not here no,” Clip said proudly, “We have fallen on our feet I would say Ma’am. Down there between the park towers are canals and the old boulevard they say,” she added seeing Katherine wasn’t done with the view.

“They say? But… haven’t you been there?” Katherine was suddenly curious.

Clip laughed and then blushing executed a quick bow by way of apology for her implied mockery and hastily explained. “No Ma’am, it is quite literally the underworld. No respectable person, even of the poorer sort would venture there. Not for a hundred years or more. They say that once the old shop fronts and houses were converted into factories and storage, but I doubt they still remain. No good transport links you see Ma’am.”

“I see,” Katherine pursed her lips ponderously. “So everyone in Angram lives in the sky so to speak?”

“Everyone who is anyone I suppose. Up here we will be living with the lesser gentry and perhaps a few of the richer tradespeople. Technocrats and clerks might have similar abodes, but not in this part of the city. The knobs live up in the gods,” Clip hoisted her thumb skyward and Katherine looked to the spires above. “But the workers tend to live near the factories, shops…” she shrugged, “…wherever. Many down by the waterways live quite close to the ground. You had a hint of it on your way in.”

By Knobs, Katherine presumed Clip meant the nobility like Lady Gospel. She could well understand they wouldn’t live near the docks.

“Those multi-level market streets, such a hustle of colour,” Katherine said in a tone of wonder. They had been on the water’s edge true enough, but some of the levels were 20 storeys above anything she might have seen in Worchester, albeit set back in a series of broad stepped flat-roofed buildings.

“That’s the sort of thing Ma’am,” Clip said perkily, “Not so bad eh?”

“No worse than Worchester I suppose,” Katherine said absently. “Now answer me this, and etiquette be damned. How much am I paying for all this? I have been engaged to assist a lady and serve as a companion of sorts, or so I understand. The letter was rather vague. But I am quite certain that the salary is not enough to afford you and all of this grandeur.”

If she thought Clip would collapse into confusion and bluster she was about to see Retainer Guild training at its best.

“Lady Gospel suggested that you might need some general… suggestions in these matters, just between us at home here, if you will allow Ma’am,” Clip said smoothly.

“Yes, yes, it’s not done to talk about such things,” Katherine said with a hint of sarcasm.

Clip bowed and offered her mistress a genuinely friendly smile. “This ‘grandeur’ as you say, is no less than can be supported for one in your position. Anything of lower standing would reflect badly on Lady Gospel. Therefore Lady Gospel would have taken out a lease in your name for some years, I would hazard to guess. The matter will be closed in her mind, never to be spoken of. I will in due course no doubt locate any paperwork and identify any financial obligations that might have been overlooked together with any details. As for me, I have explained I am yours for the duration of my contract, unless at any time during the first year and one day you chose to replace me; at no charge, naturally.”

“Naturally,” Katherine sighed. “So I am obligated to Lady Gospel.”

“She is your patron. So yes, in honour and in law,” Clip bowed.

“I have signed nothing,” Katherine said sharply, for some reason she was irritated by the notion that she was effectively now a servant of sorts with a contractual obligation of some years at least.

“You answered the letter of appointment accepting the position?” Clip ventured. “Mayhap you signed it?”

Katherine sagged and nodded. “Tell me Clip, how long is your contract?” she asked.

“Twenty-five years,” Clip said proudly, “Renewable of course.”

Katherine gaped. “That’s, that’s… Clip, how old are you?”

Clip looked puzzled as if the question were unimportant. “I don’t know exactly,” she replied hesitantly. “Not above 20 I should think. I trained for seven years.”

“And you are compelled to serve as…” Katherine was drawing herself up to her full provincial outrage.

“Not compelled, not when I signed. Why I should I be? Half my bond fee goes to the guild; the rest is invested for anything I want after; a pretty sum. And if I am not inclined to marry or the like after that… well another term and I can retire to an apartment approaching this in grandeur, well almost,” she added with a wink.

Katherine wondered if that was a good deal or not and decided to say nothing.

“I am not overly beautiful, overly smart or much inclined to learning an artisan skill. It’s a good life for an urchin like me and one I am drawn to. I had the chance to take the guild’s education and run. Many do. The army and trade will snap you up. Please be assured Ma’am, I am a servant to my soul and happy to serve.” Clip bowed.

Katherine was about to ask for some tea when Clip turned to go.

“Oh Ma’am, do you have any special rules, requests…?” Clip said lightly as she turned back. There was a suggestion of some import to the question and Katherine got the feeling it was no afterthought. “I mean,” Clip added shyly, “Do you prefer the cane, the strap, the paddle…” adding nervously, “…all three? I mean there are other things, but generally…” perhaps it was nerves that made the up to now composed Clip babble on.

Katherine frowned and shook her head in confusion.

“When you chastise me? I mean… well a weekly straightener is usual, but some like to make it once a month…” Clip told Katherine reluctantly adding with a wince, “…others daily.”

“Wh-why would I want to… ah, chastise you?” Katherine said in surprise.

Clip frowned and wondered what to say to this. Then she laughed. “Oh Ma’am, you almost had me.”

*

Lady Gospel lived in what could only be described as a palace in the sky.

An elevator of steel and brass had taken Katherine to an eerie above her own building where she was able to board what looked to be a fine carriage set on precarious rails. Only this carriage was driven by a small steam engine that powered it across a narrow bridge to an adjacent tower. Only the tower looked like an industrial parody of an ancient castle grafted atop a gothic building even taller than the one in which she lived.

Katherine had received a summons by gilded note not an hour after her arrival summoning her to morning coffee on the morrow at 10.30 sharp.

“Will you be accompanying me?” Katherine had asked Clip.

“That is for you to say Ma’am, but if you are asking for my advice…?” Clip had pursed her lips.

Katherine frowned and then took the hint and said she would go alone.

“I will set out appropriate attire in time to leave at 10,” Clip suggested. “You will of course be 10 or 15 minutes early, but…”

“Thank you Clip, very good,” Katherine agreed.

The steam carriage deposited Katherine onto a marble concourse surrounded by a garden of all things. The uniformed boy in the bum-freezer jacket and pillbox hat waiting to greet her turned out to be a girl of Clip’s age and Katherine was shocked to see that not only did she wear tight breeches, but they were glove tight leaving nothing to the imagination below the waist.

“I… I am here to see Lady Gospel,” Katherine coughed.

“Naturally ma’am,” the girl bowed, “But you will have a name?”

The tone was impertinent and Katherine supposed that her manner of dress and provincial attire gave away her relatively low status as a visitor.

“Miss Katherine Jackman,” Katherine supplied and handed the girl her note.

“Ah yes, you are expected,” the girl bowed again, ignoring the proffered paper. “Please follow me.”

Katherine flushed as the girl turned and walked away. So tight were the woman’s hose-cum-breeches that she might as well have been naked below the waist. They even boasted a tailored seam at the rear drawing the material into the curves of her bottom cleft. Indeed, had her uniform not been a rich powder blue in colour, Katherine would have been convinced the girl was nude.

One view distracted from the other and it was a moment or two before Katherine took in her surroundings. Never in her life had she seen so much glass and the light was amazing.

“How many people live here?” Katherine asked as she paused to peer through a great pane to spy on a flower-shaded pool in the adjacent atrium. Then she was forced to hurry on as the girl didn’t wait.

“I wouldn’t know madam, it is really not my concern,” the girl sniffed.

The implication was clear. Such things were not Katherine’s concern either.

*

Lady Gospel’s rooms had high arching ceilings with twisting marble columns supporting a lattice overhead. The chamber was light and airy, but Katherine was put in mind of some great gilded birdcage. An image added to by the gentle sound of birdsong from the nearby roof gardens.

“Wait here madam,” the unformed servant told her and then with a defiant roll of her sensuous hip she turned and left Katherine alone.

Once alone Katherine pursed her lips and made a slow turn of the chamber. She was certainly a long way from Worchester. At one end of the room was a table in an alcove. Silver pots and fine porcelain had already been laid out and set around it were broad wide chairs. She consulted her pocket watch and saw it was 28 minutes past the hour.

“I wonder if she will be late,” Katherine muttered.

The sound of a small cough or supressed sniff came in response.

“Hello?” she called and moved forward with some purpose.

Seeing no one, Katherine was about to suppose she imagined it when she saw the girl and gasped. A maid of some kind was standing with her face turned to the wall in the alcove next to where the coffee was to be served. Like most servants she had observed, the young woman had been wearing breeches, but hers were in a puddle at her ankles along with some kind of underwear, leaving her bottom completely exposed to reveal that the curves of the girl’s pert behind had been harshly polished to a shiny red.

“Oh the gods, are you alright?” Katherine blurted.

“Oh ignore the silly girl,” said a voice, “She set out the wrong coffee set and it was too late to change it.”

A startled Katherine whirled around to confront perhaps the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. The woman before her wore a gown of pale blue folded with silver white.  Her corn blonde hair hung in a single loose braid over her right shoulder, falling to the curve of her magnificent hips. Her bust was tastefully but forcefully projected, only marginally distracting from her firm confident smile and sea-deep shimmering blue eyes. Katherine was about to speak when the woman made a half turn and indicated the coffee table. It was only then that she revealed her gown only to be a front to tailored white silk trousers that ballooned at the hips and tapered to elegant ankle huggers at her delicate white boots.

“Please do take a seat,” the presumed Lady Gospel said pleasantly.

Katherine darted a glance at the well-spanked girl in the corner and then fixed a polite gaze on her patron and inclined her head.

“I prefer mine black and extra strong, but the cream is divine too,” Lady Gospel sang, her smile broadening encouragingly.

“Thank you, a little cream would be lovely my Lady,” Katherine said smoothly as she recomposed herself.

“As the maid is indisposed allow me to pour,” a gently smiling Lady Gospel laughed.

By contrast Katherine’s grin was fixed and rather tight. She averted her gaze for as long as possible and then her eyes flicked to the girl.

“Don’t girls get spanked in Worchester?” Lady Gospel chuckled.

“It has been known my Lady, b-but…” Katherine dropped her eyes to the coffee.

“No look,” Lady Gospel nodded at the maid facing the wall, “I didn’t do much of a job it is true, I didn’t want any distractions from our meeting. I’ll have the silly girl report to the housekeeper later.”

The maid shifted uncomfortably at this news.

“Oh but I thought…” Katherine thought that the girl had been spanked quite enough for a silly slip, but she took a good look all the same.

“You were head girl at school, were you not?” Lady Gospel said and then drew the delicate porcelain to her full sensuous lips and sipped at her coffee.

“Eh yes I…” Katherine sounded absent now, her own thoughts tending back to the same idea.

“So you are no stranger to such things, you must have dished it out a few thrashings, I should say,” Lady Gospel proffered, the words light on her tongue. “Taken a few too, I shouldn’t wonder,” she added suggestively.

Katherine blushed and licked her lips.

“It is one of the features of your résumé that caught my eye and led me to engaging you,” Lady Gospel continued.

“Such details weren’t included in my… I mean I don’t see what…” Katherine blurted. She suddenly felt exposed, as if her proclivities and secret nature were now exposed.

“Don’t be curt with me,” the noble woman warned; her tone now sharp.

“Sorry I…”

“I needed a provincial who was no stranger to leadership and sound discipline. Someone who has no history here in the capital but has a proven attitude for… my way of doing things,” Lady Gospel soothed, her hinted rage now as transient as a cloud on a distant horizon.

“My Lady?” Katherine wasn’t sure where this was leading.

“Discretion, loyalty… someone with more to gain through honest service than a native of Angram might,” Lady Gospel explained. “Such people can be groomed from birth, or got at early anyway.”

“I am not entirely sure what…” Katherine was suddenly at a loss, there must have been some mistake.

“Precisely,” Lady Gospel cut in sharply. “You have no idea what I am suggesting, because such guile and deception would never occur to you. There are those, Miss Jackman, those who would not stoop to place eyes and ears into my service whose loyalties lay elsewhere.”

“You mean spies?” Katherine sounded shocked.

“There you have it. I knew you would be a quick study.” Lady Gospel sounded well satisfied.

“Well I can certainly see that I am no threat on that account, but how can I possibly help?” Katherine asked.

“For now… well we will see,” Lady Gospel dismissed that detail. “In time and once you have found your feet I will look to you to be a kind of retainer-at-large; someone who will be overlooked by some while you deputise for me on the domestic scene. I have a great many households and interests both in the capital and elsewhere that would benefit from a fresh set of ears and eyes from time to time.”

“A deputy, but even your page looked at me as if I was something she had trodden in. I would have no authority…” Katherine spluttered.

“The page? Oh yes, she needs a firm hand that one. She will be attended to. But it does rather make my point. People would guard their words and deeds less readily in front of you and in time you will grow into the role.” Lady Gospel mused.

“I didn’t mean to get anyone into trouble I was just…” Katherine wailed.

“Spare me your provincial hypocrisy,” her employer scolded. “I know full well your reputation at school. Quite a taste for toasting tails I discovered.”

Katherine’s heart leapt and a surge of hot blood visibly pulsed into head. She felt quite giddy for a second, as if she were falling. It was true, every word. She was such a malicious wretch with wicked Sappho tendencies to boot. Even now she was picturing the tight curves of the insolent page girl bent over for swishing.

“Have no fear Miss Jackman, you will get used to our ways,” Lady Gospel said in an easy voice.

The beautiful noble woman eyed her latest retainer, who even now wore her confusion on her face. The woman was flushed at the thought of punishing the servant and embarrassed that her desires could be read as easily as a book in the library. Katherine Jackman would need training to survive this city, Letitia Gospel knew, and a very firm hand where it counted most. But that would take time if she was to garner and maximise the petite redheaded provincial’s loyalty. For now she needed the former head girl’s crueller talents.

“I-I will do my best,” Katherine said at last, a hand stealing defensively to her throat.

“Indeed, I am sure you will,” Lady Gospel soothed, adding “More coffee?”

“Thank you,” Katherine answered, more comfortable with conventional niceties. “But may I ask, what is my exact status here…? I mean, I understand that it isn’t done to… but well…?”

“Socially you will be to all intents a lady-in-waiting, but as you have no noble standing your legal status is as lady companion… with an honourable life bond of course,” Lady Gospel said airily.

“Life bond?” Katherine spluttered on her coffee.

“It is quite usual, I will send around the papers and you will never have to worry again,” the noble woman said reassuringly.

“But a bond, for life,” Katherine ejaculated. A bond-contract was unthinkable, a life bond was akin to a death sentence or so it seemed to her.

Lady Gospel held her temper and ignored the outburst. There would be time enough for taming this woman she reminded herself. Instead she strained her empathy to understand Katherine’s apparent objection. After a slow stir of her coffee she settled on: “An honourable life bond is quite usual and need not mean life. It so rarely ever does in fact. It is quite the fashion to pay off a lifer these days, not to mention expensive. It means little in practice as you are already here and have accepted the position. You might as well have the full legal protection that goes along with it. Talk to that servant I engaged for you to see about legal advice. Get any lawyer you want and have them send me the bill. It is just the custom here, nothing at all to worry about.”

“I see,” Katherine sighed, but she didn’t see at all.

*

Katherine did her best stand aloof from the scene. But in truth she felt a little light-headed and not a little excited. The page who had first greeted her on her arrival was now decidedly sans culottes and folded in a bent position over the back of a sturdy well-padded ottoman sofa. The unfortunate pose had the effect of presenting the female retainer’s pert well-defined bare bottom in very prime whipping condition. Her old school headmistress would have been well-satisfied and Katherine was quite transported to a former time.

Katherine had to admit that the young woman had not once lost composure and on being summoned had obeyed Lady Gospel’s order to take down her breeches and bend over without a flicker. Without the hat she had worn Katherine could see that the girl sported a very short boyish blonde cut, denoting low status. Katherine was now more than a little irritated that she had put up with such insolence on her arrival.

“Now as head girl with such a miscreant in this position what would you have done?” Lady Gospel asked cheerfully. Her eyes twinkled and she made no pretence of hiding her pleasure.

“This position… ah,” Katherine swallowed against the constriction in her throat. “The slipper perhaps, but more usually we gave out six of the best with a penny cane.”

“A penny cane?” the noble woman was intrigued.

“A short thin stick about two feet long; it was all student discipliners were permitted,” Katherine sounded almost regretful.

“Six?” Lady Gospel nodded seriously, but swallowed a smile. “Yes I see, but we are rather more severe here. Tell me what would your headmistress have done?”

Katherine took a deep breath and drank in the exposed girl’s beautiful tight bottom. “There was a small leather bat or a yard-long duty cane. Girls could receive up to a dozen from each… usually one or the other I mean.”

“Really,” Lady Gospel snorted. “At my school, in the senior year one could get dozens of swats from a wooden paddle just as a prelude to a good two dozen with nasty 36-incher. I won’t even describe my governess’s methods.”

Despite the cruelty of her recounting, Katherine fancied that her employer had taken on a wistful air.

“What do you usually do to a naughty page my lady?” Katherine asked to avoid looking any more the provincial than she already did.

“Hmm, for this one and given her sins…” then addressing the bare bottom Lady Gospel put in, “disrespect for my guest indeed…”

“Sorry my lady,” the girl said sullenly, her words muffled from the heads down position.

“I should say you’re sorry, you can count on it. A good dose of the leather paddle and then we will see… a touch of the biter perhaps,” her mistress scolded.

“Ooh, yes ma’am.”

“Posy, fetch the rack,” Lady Gospel said sharply.

Katherine noticed the maid still facing the corner had executed a quick dip and scurry away still exposed behind. In a moment she returned, still bare-bottomed, pushing a large frame on wheels that was hung with various paddles, sticks, straps and the like. The girl bobbed and fixed her eyes firmly on the floor. Perhaps she feared Lady Gospel was not done with her. But her mistress waved her away and nodded at the space by the wall where she had faced before and the maid dipped a curtsey and went back to her bottom-exposed time out.

“I have a good mind to use the pandy-bat,” the glorious aristocrat snorted, her attention now on the bare-bottomed page.

The servant visibly tensed at this and Katherine heard her whimper.

“Oh you remember,” Lady Gospel chuckled. As she spoke she strolled to the rack and flicked at a huge heavy paddle with her finger. “But I think Miss Jackman can begin with this one.” With that she took up a short leather paddle with an oval striking surface about twice the size of a man’s hand. “Here take it,” she said.

Taking the paddle Katherine swallowed hard and inspected the rather quite weighty implement. It wasn’t much more than she had seen and felt at school and a dozen with this would a good way to full justice, she decided. All the same something tightened in her nether area and it felt like rain, as she used to say when being delicate.

“Lay on as you would at school… no as your teacher’s might have, but take your time,” Lady Gospel instructed, “Two or three dozen to begin with and let us see how you get on.”

“Two or three…?” Katherine gasped.

“Well we can add a few dozen more as we go,” Lady Gospel said impatiently. “You will have your justice I promise.”

Katherine felt her heart leap and wished she wasn’t enjoying this. I’m such a beast, she thought.

Gazing down on the exposed bottom of the insolent servant girl, Katherine was conscious only of the smooth curves of skin and the young woman’s gentle breathing. Even Lady Gospel held her breath as if judging her new retainer’s mettle. It had been almost seven years since she had spanked or caned anyone but the memories came rushing back.

Stepping into her swing she brought the leather down with a satisfying crack right across both bottom cheeks to extract a female gasp. At first this left only a pale patch on already white flesh but in moments a soft pink flooded the area on both tender cheeks so Katherine spanked again.

“Hmmm,” the girl gasped again.

This time Katherine didn’t wait and struck the young woman’s bare bottom thrice more and then again for good measure. The result was two dark pink ovals crowning both hind cheeks, but the girl herself was little moved.

Harder I think, Katherine thought with grim satisfaction. The next three swats were at full force so that a tight grunt was extracted from the girl.

“Good, good,” Lady Gospel murmured and licked her lips.

Katherine looked from the by now decently reddened bare behind to her employer and saw no sign that she should stop or even ease up. So turning back to the girl’s bottom she lined up for another strike. Look down on me will you, she thought and found some reserve to add some further bite to her spank.

Five minutes in the girl still was not yelling, but her breathing was audible and somewhat ragged. Her bottom was by now quite red and the stain had spread from two neat ovals to cover her entire behind.

Katherine had no idea how many spanks she had administered; never before had she indulged such luxury. But even with pausing, at a rate of a dozen swats a minute, well at least, the young woman must have suffered over 50 swats.

“Should I…?” she said turning to her mentor.

Lady Gospel laughed and clapped her hands. It was a joyful tinkling outburst as if she was remembering some long forgotten innocence. “No, no, please continue for a while,” she said encouragingly.

Katherine took a deep breath and tugged at her sleeves to loosen her gown at the arms where she was beginning to perspire. Then patting the paddle on the sore bottom served up before her she spanked it again hard so that the squirming girl grunted.

“Feeling it are you?” Katherine asked, “Will you be quite so rude next time I visit?”

“No ma’am,” the page squeaked and although her two tormentors could not see from where her head dangled to the floor, small tears leaked at her eyes.

“Good, I am so relieved,” Katherine said sarcastically and spanked the girl another dozen times in half a minute.

This time the spanked woman gave a pained yell at each impact and her red bottom wriggled vigorously.

“This is all going very well,” Lady Gospel chuckled. “I really think young Griselda is learning a valuable lesson,” then seeing Katherine pause and take a step back she added, “Oh do go on.”

“Perhaps…” Katherine said breathlessly eyeing what was now a very sore bottom and realising that Griselda, if that was her name, was beginning to cry in earnest.

Lady Gospel’s face hardened and she wagged a finger. “Either this young woman has been rude or she hasn’t,” she said seriously. “If she has been rude then her punishment has not yet started and you will continue. If she hasn’t then your pretty little bottom will take her place for wasting my time.”

Katherine gaped and became flushed. “I only meant… I mean she was insolent yes but I just thought…”

“Griselda, were you insolent?” Lady Gospel asked imperiously.

“Yes my lady,” the page said miserably.

“Do you deserve this punishment?”

“Yes ma’am,” Griselda said in a reluctant voice. “I’m sorry Miss Jackman, really I am.”

“Very well; I take a very dim view, very dim. Once your cheeky little backside has been tenderised to my satisfaction I am going to cane you and cane you hard,” Lady Gospel told her.

“Yes my lady,” the sore and sorry retainer said mournfully.

“And how many strokes would seem reasonable in your professional opinion?” Lady Gospel asked.

“Oh the gods,” Griselda muttered and then fell silent.

“I can hardly believe my… I asked you a question girl,” the women’s employer was incredulous.

“Thirty-six ma’am, 36 strokes at least, I only… please my lady, insolence and discourtesy to guests is inexcusable. I am truly sorry. Miss Jackman should take her time and thoroughly correct me before you add any sanction you see fit. I might add…” she paused as if steeling herself for a great effort. “I think perhaps I should be further humbled at the chatelaine’s pleasure and put on restriction.”

“I think so too,” Lady Gospel said, now mollified. “I will also take your suggestion of 36 under advisement. Miss Jackman, please continue.”

“Yes ma’am,” Katherine said in a tone of wonder. Her guilt at taking pleasure from this had been reduced and she was only sorry there were witnesses to her sport. At school such chastisements had been administered discreetly and often under a veil of hypocrisy.

Stepping forward Katherine lined up another stroke and this time she found a rhythm and clung to it for a while. It was time to make a true impact and this apparently sorry girl seemed far too arrogant in her submission. She wanted some proper crying before she was done.

*

Katherine was feeling giddy with punitive power. Griselda’s bottom was a dark mottled red with distinctive donut bruising on the crowns and under curves. The general redness was elevated so as to be framed by some true welting and the page was sobbing hard. It was just about the most soundly spanked bare behind Katherine had ever seen and she was entirely responsible.

“Not bad,” Lady Gospel remarked as she took up a long thin cane, adding, “Thirty-six I think we agreed on.”

“Yes ma’am,” Griselda sniffed.

Katherine swung her gaze from the nasty stick to the rather tender punished bottom. “I am prepared to forgive and…” she began, although her heart screamed for more sadistic pleasure.

“Miss Jackman, you are entirely missing the point, your forgiveness is not an issue here. This girl was rude to my guest.” Lady Gospel said crisply. “Please do and try to keep up. You are here to learn after all.”

“Yes my lady,” Katherine said quickly. Oh well she had tried.

“I think I am going to enjoy this,” Lady Gospel chuckled. The cane cut the air like a rapier, making a sharp swishing sound. Then the noble woman took an active stance. “You know some of my friends keep retainers just to thrash on a rainy afternoon. Girls specially trained to react just so to any scenario played out on their perfect tight tails. But I only care for true punishment: it so pure.” Then she struck.

Griselda hissed even as a white line cut through the red. After a moment the rush of red pumped up a ridge of pure pain; stark against the already coloured skin.

“One my lady,” the page managed, her voice infinitely strained.

“Oh good girl, I like a good announced count,” Lady Gospel made a gesture of applause.

“Two my lady,” Griselda answered a second cut in a voice that was about to crack.

“I’ll lay on six quite fast,” the noblewoman explained as she lashed the rod down again.

“Eee, threeee, my ladeee,” the page yelled.

“That way…” she caned.

“Ffffooor milady…” the punished girl groaned.

“…I can rest both my arm and the miscreants bottom between sets in a way…” the cane was sharp in its attack.

“Fffffive… uhh… milady…” Griselda honked out a sob.

“…that doesn’t impede the corrective therapy required.”

The last stroke was greeted with an almost incoherent yelp of “sssiiixxx milady…”

“Is that right my girl?”

“Yes ma’am,” Griselda wailed and then again fell to urgent sobbing.

*

The caning had been quite something and not only could Katherine scarcely breathe but it was very definitely raining down south.

Griselda’s bottom was a tapestry of dark bluish-red ridges laid over mottled swollen dark and bright red flesh. The young woman herself had sobbed for the nation once her correction was done, but her powers of recovery were impressive. After a few minutes both her sobbing and heavy breathing had abated and the girl had been permitted to stand.

“Thank you my lady, most beneficial, I do hope I will serve you better in future,” the girl had said with a confident bow.

“I trust it will,” Lady Gospel had chuckled, “Now you may take the place of Posy in the corner.”

“Yes ma’am,” Griselda said without a hint of resentment and briskly moved to obey.

“Posy, you may report to the chatelaine and take the rack with you,” the noblewoman said in a tone of finality.

“Yes ma’am,” the maid bobbed and scurried to obey, vacating the place facing the wall so that the punished page could take her turn.

“You did well,” Lady Gospel said, now turning to Katherine. “I do hope you can maintain this standard of work.”

“Yes of course, but… am I to understand… I mean is punishing servants to be…” Katherine was still off balance.

“All in good time,” Lady Gospel made a dismissive gesture. “You have shown at least an aptitude for firm discipline and some sensitivity to high society when dealing with inferiors.”

Not knowing what to say to this Katherine inclined her head in acceptance.

“Now along with your service contract I will send some books I wish you to read and digest. There will be a few parties for you to accompany me to, but I don’t want you over indulging. Just attend, smile and listen. Also see to some shopping, your gown is a little… anyway that servant I arranged will help. Oh and engage some others.” Lady Gospel took a sip of by now rather cool coffee.

“Without seeming vulgar… my finances are…” Katherine proffered casually.

Lady Gospel sighed. “One of the books I shall send you will be on etiquette. Make sure you read that one at least. Never talk to me about money or any such details again. For once and the last time, you are in my service now, deport yourself as such. No one is going to present you with a bill and if they do send it on to my chatelaine.”

“I… yes, thank you my lady,” Katherine blushed.

“Oh that reminds me, do pay attention to forms of address, curtsies and so on… better to drop the odd formality than use the wrong one.” She made a face of disgust towards her drink and put it down. “More coffee?” the noble woman rang a bell.

*

Katherine’s thoughts tumbled through her head as she took her leave. A witness to two punishments, a participant in one, a veiled threat to her own posterior and the discovery that she was in effect and in law a life bonded retainer. She knew what they would think back in Worchester, that she was more or less a slave of some kind. Not that she felt it. She cast around at the magnificence and pondered on gilded cages. She was a little afraid, it was true, but more than that she was excited.

“I do hope you bear no grudge ma’am,” said a thought-breaching voice to her left.

A startled Katherine swung around to see Griselda executing a slight half-bow with one arm behind her back on the other palm upwards to her social better. The girl was again immaculately attired, complete with pillbox hat, only this time she wore no breeches of any kind. The jacket veiled her forward nudity but even from the side Katherine could clearly see the girl’s pert curves in profile and the vicious red scoring decorating her behind.

“Me…? Bear a grudge… are you alright? It was never my intention…” Katherine flustered.

The girl’s gaze was less cool and she permitted herself an almost friendly half-smile. “Never apologise for correcting a social subordinate. I was in a foul mood this morning and I have been justly and thoroughly corrected for it, thank you.”

Katherine smiled graciously and returned Griselda’s slight bow at angle just a jot less steep. She was about to go when she thought of something. It probably wasn’t the thing to ask, but she doubted Griselda was going to judge her, not know and she had to learn. Besides, she suddenly found that she had a prurient interest. “You said something about being on restriction and humbled at the chatelaine’s pleasure?” The Chatelaine, she knew, was a housekeeper and high overseer to most of the domestic staff.

“Yes,” Griselda groaned and rolled her eyes conspiratorially. “Me and my very big mouth, I over egged it somewhat didn’t I? The chatelaine has already confiscated my breeches, all of them and when I am not doing double duty I have to stand facing the wall in servants’ hall.”

“The wall?” Katherine blurted.

“You know a time out with my hands on my head; no speaking and no one speaks to me. On top of that I am restricted, that is confined to my room with no leisure time until further notice,” the page sighed and gave a shrug.

“That sounds grim, I’m sorry, I would have thought…” Katherine was genuinely sympathetic now.

“Don’t be sorry, I suppose I deserve it. You have no idea how bad it would have been if you had been anyone else. In a way you have done me a favour and taught me a lesson,” she shrugged again. “I’m used it, as much as anyone gets used to it. I’m a bad lot you see.” She winked.

“How long will this go on for?” Katherine found herself again with the prurient hope that Griselda wouldn’t get off too lightly.

“At least until my tail end shows no signs of correction, and knowing the chatelaine and my penchant for trouble… well I’ll be lucky if I don’t get a top up before then,” the page said ruefully, “But I should be out of jug within the month.”

“Oh well, good luck,” Katherine chuckled.

“Thank you ma’am, you too,” the page bowed again and said, “I’ll see you out.”

*

Katherine sat with a growing feeling of disquiet as she viewed the pile of papers that had arrived from Lady Gospel that morning. There were books too and some of them were even more troubling than the contract.

“There is an excellent lawyer ma’am,” Clip said at last. “It would be no trouble… although…”

“Yes?” Katherine seized on the apparent doubt on her servants part for a glimpse of hope.

“I read through them myself and there is absolutely nothing untoward. Perhaps Lady Gospel would resent the delay,” Clip said carefully.

“I read them too,” Katherine sighed, “If that is a standard contract… well I would hate to see a punitive court ordered one.”

“The clauses on punishment and so forth… no I see your point, I never thought of them from a freeborn point of view. But there are extensive clauses on the restriction of arranged marriage, standard limitations and legal procedures for appeals…” Clip knew Katherine had no real cause for concern, but she was a provincial and would have to be coaxed for her own good. In truth, clip would have given anything for such an opportunity.

“Oh the gods,” Katherine sighed.

“Why don’t you sign them and send them via the lawyer, ma’am? That way there will be little delay and you can be assured there aren’t any hidden problems.” Clip suggested.

“And the books,” Katherine groaned. “These whipping procedures are… and not just how to give, but how to position oneself…I mean if one…”

“It is just a matter of etiquette,” Clip soothed.

“The case studies are of noble-born women and high-born ladies as if… as if… no one is exempt,” the older woman snarled as she slapped the pile of books. “Is that etiquette?”

“It happens ma’am, and to tell you the truth, knowing Lady Gospel’s reputation… well sooner or later it will happen to you,” Clip told her mistress honestly.

Katherine swivelled on her corseted hips where she sat and gave Clip a hard stare.

The servant girl offered up sad eyes and shrugged.

Katherine relaxed. That was what she had feared and now the words had been said it almost sounded cowardly in front of a woman who had been trained her whole life in such things… if that was the worst thing? She weighed up the pros and cons, including her wondrous apartment and then picked up the pen. Let the lawyer decide, she thought.

“Make sure the sure the legal people see these before Lady Gospel,” she said and signed the papers.



2 Responses to “Curious Customs”

  1. Great Steampunk story! Love the detailed descriptions and characters.
    Looking forward to more. Feels like a series.

    GentBB

    • 2 DJ

      Thanks Gent

      I did have this more in my sights as a series than the last Steampunk offering – but a challenge I think – quite densely written and themed.


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