Chapter One

 

Lady Mathom lingered over her coffee and read Rachel’s first report on her computer screen with amusement. Rachel had just E-mailed the report to her from the computer terminal in the cellars, so it appeared that Jennifer was on for an early start. It was a little after five in the morning. Rachel was evidently taking her responsibilities seriously. The first indications were that Jennifer had much to learn. Well there were no surprises there! Lady Mathom was pleased with her idea of making Rachel Jennifer’s mentor. She’d already taken on the role to some degree ever since first meeting Jennifer and she was a natural choice. Rachel was tough too. She’d been through the mill herself and she wouldn’t be too soft of Jennifer. Now she was pregnant, she’d be doing less work with her business and it would be eminently agreeable to have her around the Hall more often for the rest of summer. Rachel was a great favourite of Lady Mathom’s. Lady Mathom smoothed the folds of her negligee and smiled to herself. Poor little Jennifer wasn’t going to know what had hit her!

There was a knock on the door of her chambers and Lady Mathom said, “Come in.” As the door opened, she continued “Well Robin you are making progress! Knocking on a Lady’s door before entering no less! We might even manage to make you halfway civilised at this rate!” Robin laughed and entered the room, not even bothering to inquire how his mother had known it was he before she had even seen him.

“Good morning mother.”

“And a good morning to you too Robin. You’re out and about early today.”

“Yes, I’ve shed loads of work to do! I have to do a presentation at the conference in Switzerland a week on Tuesday!”

“I hope your workload isn’t so all time-consuming that you can’t spare a moment to kiss your poor old mother good morning.”

“Bugger the work!” Robin crossed the room in a few easy steps to embrace his mother.

After several long seconds Lady Mathom patted him gently “Now, now Robin! Behave yourself! I’ve lots to do and so have you. Is Rebecca up as well?”

“Yes. She’s sat at her computer and saying unladylike things at it, so I presume she’s working too!”

“Well you’ve time for a cup of coffee Robin. Sit down for a minute.” Robin pulled up a chair and took a cup. “I’ve cancelled your flight on Friday Robin.”

“What? Whatever for?”

Oh it’s only delayed until Saturday. It’s just that Rebecca wanted to give you a little going away party and we can’t schedule it until Friday evening. Don’t worry the conference won’t get properly under way until Monday. The first couple of days are just a jolly really, networking time and all that. I’ve cleared it with White Mountain. They’ll be expecting you on the afternoon flight into Geneva on Saturday.”

“Well Ok! What’s this party anyway? Rebecca hasn’t mentioned anything to me.”

“Be patient Robin. It’s a little surprise! I don’t think that you’d pass it up for a night in a Swiss hotel!”

“Ok! I’ll let Rebecca have her little secrets.”

“She doesn’t know where you are going or what you are doing does she?”

“No mother.”

“Good! Keep it that way! There’re have been new developments Robin. I’ve had coded communications from Russia. They’ve got a visual on it.”

“What already? Impossible!”

“Not at all. They have it in visual spectrum. The Andrei Anatolyev observatory has been tracking it since Tuesday! Apparently they looked out along the coordinates and picked it up at magnitude 24.5. They might have missed it, but it flared up temporarily to magnitude 17.2 on Tuesday night.”

“Great Goddess!”

Quite! They’re foaming at the mouth at White Mountain! I’m worried Robin. How the hell are we going to keep the lid on this thing if it keeps doing things like that?”

“Damn! I don’t know!” Robin’s mind was reeling. “Damn it! It must be huge!”

Yes and apparently in some working order too. That thing out there emitted a massive energy source.”

“This is scary! I’m out of my depth here.”

“We all are Robin. We’d better start learning to swim quickly! Anyway, this is just to warn you. Don’t expect peace and tranquillity in Switzerland. They’ll be hopping up and down like a frog in a bucket at White Mountain!”

“I can well believe it.”

“Not a word of this to anybody now!”

“Do I look as if I’m suffering from senile dementia?”

“Anyway, don’t worry about it until Saturday. Oh, there’s another thing Robin. I have business to attend to in the city this afternoon. I shan’t be back until late. I understand that your friends from Bolswick Bay are arriving this afternoon.”

Yes that’s right.”

“Well would you please host them and make my apologies for me. I’ll see them tomorrow. I hope they won’t feel insulted.”

No they’ll be all right mother. If anything they’ll be somewhat relieved. They’re a little nervous about meeting you.”

Lady Mathom sighed, “Sometimes it does become tedious being a tyrant.”

“You’re not a tyrant! It’s just that they’ve never been formally presented at a House such as this and they’re naturally nervous. It’s probably a good thing, your absence. They’ll be able to orientate themselves before meeting you. It’ll give them time to relax.”

“Well perhaps you’re right. Make my apologies in any case.” 

“Ok! Will we be able to see Jennifer today?”

“No Robin. Best leave her where she is for the time being. The poor girl has enough on her plate at the moment.”

“Rebecca says you sent her straight to the cellars. Wasn’t that a bit harsh?”

“She’s just undergoing some evaluation and preliminary orientation Robin. Rachel is looking after her. She’ll be all right.”

“You certainly believe in throwing people in at the deep end! The poor little dear’s barely out of nappies!”

“She needs to toughen up Robin. She can be a little shrinking violet after she’s put on a bit of backbone.”

“Well you know best. But it’ll be hard on her.”

Lady Mathom smiled slowly, “Yes. Yes, it will.”


 

Chapter Two

 

Down in the cellars, Jennifer was beginning to realise just how hard it was going to be. She woke up from sweet but strange dreams and found herself alone in Rachel’s cell. She was still rubbing the sleep from her eyes when the door was flung open and Rachel strode in. Rachel pecked her quickly on the cheek and then pulled the bedclothes from her. Jennifer’s tender careful lover of the night was gone and her stern mentor of the daylight was ordering her out of bed. “Up Jennifer! It’s six o’clock now and breakfast is at eight. You have some work to do before you break your fast so let’s be having you!” Jennifer scrambled out of bed, blinking. Rachel pointed to her collar and cuffs. “Get dressed Jenny!” Hastily Jennifer fastened her cuffs on her limbs and buckled her collar to her throat under Rachel’s impatient instruction. “Good! Now then! Into the gym with you young lady!”

For over an hour Rachel put Jennifer through a regime of excruciating exercises. She had her do press ups, squat jumps, weight lifting, pull ups on the bar and finished her off with a spell on a running machine. She was quite ruthless as she barked commands at Jennifer and accepted no protestations whatever. At the end Jennifer was sweating profusely and she had muscles aching that she didn’t even know she possessed. Then Rachel ordered her into the bath chamber to shower. “Yes Pixie.” she said but her meekness was unsatisfactory to Rachel.

“You’re being disrespectful Jennifer! Whilst under instruction you will afford me a formal title. When we are relaxing you may call me Pixie or Rachel or whatever. In class however, you will address me as ma-am or milady. Do you understand?”

“Yes ma-am.”

“Good! Now get showered! Don’t be long or you’ll get no breakfast!”

Jennifer rushed into the bathroom, left her manacles on the dressing table in the anteroom and showered herself quickly. When she returned to the anteroom Rachel was waiting for her. “Good Jennifer! Now we’ll wake you up and focus your attention properly for your day ahead. Please stand facing the wall about a metre or a little more away from it with your legs well apart.” Jennifer obeyed in some confusion. “That’s about right. Now bend forward and lean against the wall with the palms of your hands flat against it. Excellent! Now stand up on your toes!”

Jennifer followed instructions thinking that this was another part of her morning exercise. She squinted over her shoulder however and saw, with shock, Rachel open a drawer in the dressing table and take out a broad leather paddle on a wooden handle. Rachel took a practise swing with the frightful looking instrument and addressed the trembling Jennifer. “You’re to be spanked every morning Jennifer. In future I shall expect not to have to tell you. You will fetch me the paddle each morning and request your spanking before breakfast. Understand?” Jennifer nodded miserably. “Good! Now maintain your position until I am done.” The thick leather implement echoed loudly in the anteroom as it swatted against Jennifer’s up thrust buttocks. Jennifer stared furiously at the wall through a veil of tears as Rachel applied it time and again to her burning rear. Finally, Rachel regarded the crimson coloured orbs of the sobbing girl’s bottom and relented. “Very well Jennifer! You may stand up straight now.”

Jennifer straightened up rubbing her bottom in tearful bewilderment. “Why am being spanked? I haven’t done anything wrong! It’s not fair!”

Rachel looked at her in irritation. “Didn’t you take on board what I said last night? You’re being spanked because your Mistress has said you must! Are you daring to question her commands?”

“Well I….”

Are you?

“N…no”

“No what?”

“No ma-am.”

“Very well! Tedious though it is I shall repeat myself. If you are spanked, caned, whipped or beaten in any other way it is because your Mistress has ordered it! It is not your place to question her commands or protest against the justice of her commands. All that is required of you is your instant obedience to her wishes! Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes ma-am!” murmured Jennifer, sotto voce.

“I can barely hear you Jennifer! Louder!”

“YES! Ma-am!”

“Fine. Now resume your position against the wall. You can take an extra dozen for your presumptuousness! This time you can count the strokes out loud as you receive them!”

Jennifer bit her lip through a flood of fresh tears and took up position once more for Rachel’s paddle. “One!” she squeaked in anguish as the thick leather curled once more around her burning posterior. “Two!” she ground out through gritted teeth. “THREE!” she howled. By the twelfth stroke she could barely blubber out her count.

“Very Well Jennifer! I hope that serves as a salutary lesson! I have taken the extra trouble to instruct you in your duty of obedience. Now what do you say?”

“Th… thank you!”

“Thank you what?”

“Thank you ma-am.”

“Excellent! Perhaps we are making progress. Now you have twenty minutes before breakfast to dry your hair and apply make up to your face. Now stop blubbering! I have not the slightest desire to have my breakfast ruined by the presence of some snivelling young excuse for a slave incapable of comporting herself like a lady. I want you at the breakfast table attractively made up and with a smile back on your face or you’ll be back against the wall for another dose!”

“Y…yes ma-am.”

Jennifer was quiet at the breakfast table. As extra punishment she had been denied the concession of a cushion and she sat in considerable discomfort on the hard-wooden bench. She was trying to keep as still as possible since Rachel had commanded her to stop wriggling. Breakfast was quite frugal with poached eggs, toast, marmalade and, Sebastian’s infamous brew, tea so strong it stained the cup and was named by generations of prisoners in those chambers “Cellar Stew”. Rachel was being business-like referring to the file she had started on Jennifer the night before and informing her charge about the tasks ahead. “I’ve been thinking it over Jenny and I’ve made some revisions to your program. This morning we’re going to put you through a barrage of tests to see what you are made of. The tests will be demanding, and any failure will be punished so I do hope that your powers of concentration are well honed today Jenny. Do you feel up to it?”

“I…I’ll do my best ma-am.”

“A good answer Jenny but you don’t have to call me ma-am now. Out of class I’m just Pixie ok?”

Yes Thank you Pixie.”

“Good girl! You did your make up very well by the way and you even managed a smile. It was a bit watery, but it was a smile, so you’re excused another session with the paddle. Well you’re excused it for that potential offence anyway. You’ll probably be getting your bottom tanned for something else during the course of the morning I should imagine.”

Jennifer sighed “I’d already figured that out Pixie!”

Rachel laughed “Oh Jenny! It’s just a little spanking! Nothing to look all glum about. Water off a duck’s back to a lady of the House of Mathom! You’ll see! You’ll get to a point where you’ll feel disappointed if you don’t get your daily spanking Jenny.”

“I find it hard to imagine.”

Rachel laughed again “Well honey we’d better get started. Finish your tea off sweetheart. It’s awful isn’t it? Sebastian’s a dear but he doesn’t seem to think that tea is worthy of the name unless you can stand a spoon up in it!”

Jennifer laughed and Rachel was encouraged. Her young charge was showing admirable qualities of recovery and resilience. She reminded herself that here was a young girl who had just lost her entire family, had had her world turned upside down and was now imprisoned and undergoing a harsh regime of discipline yet she could still on occasion be made to laugh. There was something fundamentally sound under the timid retiring exterior of this young girl.


 

Chapter Three

 

Rachel had been right Jennifer reflected later. The morning’s schedule was very demanding and, long before lunchtime, a bewildered Jennifer was beginning to despair of it. Rachel set her a series of apparently meaningless yet challenging tasks. It wasn’t only that the tasks in themselves were difficult it was more that Jennifer never knew quite what was being tested in them. At one point Rachel gave her a piece of paper, a pencil and a rubber and told her to draw three squares. “Ok” she said “Those three squares represent three houses. Now draw three more squares wherever you want. Those three are utilities, the gas works, the electricity station and the waterworks. The object of this exercise is to connect up all three houses to all three utilities with a line representing the supply to each house. You are not allowed to pass one line through a house to another and in no place should the supply from one utility to a house cross that of another utility’s main. Do you understand?”

Jennifer bit her lip in concentration “Yes ma-am. I think so.”

“Good! I’ll be timing you to see how long you take to find the solution.”

On the face of it the task was deceptively easy but after a few minutes Jennifer realised that it was by no means as simple as it looked. Wherever she placed her three utilities and however tortuous and deviating was the line she drew from them to her three houses there always seemed to be a point where the line crossed that of another. Soon she was in deep trouble. Her piece of paper was filling up with projected lines and she was desperately erasing failed solutions with her rubber. Rachel was sat at the end of the table with a stopwatch in front of her and the leather paddle in front of her like the Sword of Damocles. Jennifer felt a light sweat break out on her forehead as she desperately tried to find a solution to the irritating puzzle. It couldn’t be done she thought. However, you placed your squares and lines there was always a point where the lines crossed. Surely the task was impossible! But then how could she turn around and tell Rachel that she simply wasn’t able to complete her task. That paddle would surely be redecorating her bottom almost as soon as she said it. Fiercely Jennifer focussed her mind on the conundrum. Nearly half an hour had passed before she knew she was beaten. It was time to bite the bullet. “I’m sorry ma-am but I just can’t do this!”

“Are you confessing failure Jennifer?”

“I… I don’t know ma-am. I… I just don’t seem to be able to work out the solution.”

“I shall be very displeased Jennifer if you tell me that you are incapable of doing something.”

“I’ll try some more ma-am.” For another quarter of an hour Jennifer wrestled with the puzzle but it was hopeless. Finally she decided to take her desserts. “Ma-am this can’t be done. It’s impossible! No matter what I do it just won’t come out!”

“That is the correct answer Jennifer. The puzzle is impossible.” Rachel consulted her stopwatch. “It has taken you forty-seven minutes to tell me this. Would you please explain why you have been so tardy?”

Jennifer gulped. “Well I thought it was impossible before, but you told me to find a solution.”

“At what point did you believe the puzzle to be impossible?”

“I’m not sure. After about twenty minutes I suppose.”

“So now! Correct me if I’m wrong but for another twenty-seven minutes you persisted with a problem you already knew to be impossible?”

“Well…. Yes ma-am.”

“Why?”

“Well you told me to find a solution, so I thought there must be one.”

“Am I correct in thinking that you were too afraid to tell me that the task I set you was impossible?”

“Y…yes.”

“So, for another twenty-seven minutes you attempted to do the impossible because you lacked the conviction to state it. In fact, you wasted my time and your own through cowardice! You were too pusillanimous to stand up and declare that the problem had no solution!”

“Y... yes ma-am.” Jennifer’s voice was very small.

“That’s not good enough Jennifer! There is not the slightest reason for possessing a brain if you lack the courage to use it! Where would human progress be if every time somebody came up with a solution to a problem it was never utilised because the person in question was too frightened to tell anybody about it? There is such a thing as intellectual courage too! The courage to articulate what your brain tells you to be the truth.” Rachel pointed to Jennifer’s paper “Even if you were wrong Jennifer it would be immaterial. I would not have punished you for a false solution. I will however punish you for your failure in integrity for your own convictions!” Rachel picked up the paddle and rose to her feet. “Please bend over the end of the table!”

Then there was the test with the marbles. Rachel gave Jennifer a cloth bag full of one hundred marbles and a large earthenware mug. With these objects in her hands Jennifer was instructed to go into an adjoining chamber. “This exercise will test your sense of spatial awareness Jennifer. Place the mug on the floor in the middle of the chamber. When you have done that I want you to stand at arm’s length from the mug, close your eyes, turn around three times and then, with your eyes still closed attempt to drop the marbles into the mug. You are not allowed to open your eyes for an instant until you have used all the marbles in the bag. I shall be waiting in the dining chamber. When you’ve used all the marbles bring the mug to me and I shall count how many marbles you actually managed to drop in it. If I consider that your total is unsatisfactory you will be caned. Do you understand your instructions?”

“Yes ma-am.”

“Good! Proceed!”