|Your cart is currently empty|
Bad girls need a good spanking, good girls need them more in this age play trilogy.
From under the thumb to over the knee.
When Cecilia Graves is enrolled at an exclusive academy, she is glad of the chance to escape her wicked guardian, not realising that this academy is very different from any other. Here the slightest transgression leads to a severe spanking, the students must wear scandalous uniforms and accept the life of a submissive little.
The proprietor, Adrian Fox, is cold and cruel, until he meets Cecilia. Intent on turning her into his personal little, his world is turned upside down when a society figure decides to take Cecilia for himself.
Now Cecilia must choose between the life of a society lady and that of a submissive little. Whichever she chooses, one thing is for certain, her life will never be the same again.
Faith Muir is after a diamond and she knows where to find it. The jewel all thieves covet is held in the home of powerful Jonathan Hardcastle, a man rumoured to be inhumanly cruel to anyone who dares cross him. Faith has found a way to gain his trust and spirit away the diamond. All she has to do is enrol as his pupil and then sneak away from the classroom while his back is turned.
What she doesn’t know is that once she’s in his sadistic realm, she may never leave. Entering a world of age play and harsh discipline, Faith finds herself drawn into the life of a little, submitting to so many spankings, she no longer remembers why she enrolled in the first place.
When circumstances conspire to separate Faith from her new master, it’s the start of a race against time for her to find him and his diamond before it’s too late for her to have any chance of a happy ever after.
When innocent Ella Stirling is accused of theft, she is dragged off to face justice. Anderson Price refuses to listen to her protests of innocence, insisting she submit to him for one week as punishment for her imagined crimes.
Taken to the Little Academy, Ella learns the skills of submission and discipline in a place where ordinary rules are ignored in the pursuit of pleasure. Drawn into the life of a little, Ella is given a choice when her week is up. Go home branded a criminal or accept who she truly is and fully embrace the submissive life of a little.
All three stories contain age play, spanking, humiliation, anal play and power exchange.
A Little Lesson - Chapter 1
It was a position I had never been in before, draped over a gentleman’s lap, my posterior pointing towards him, my eyes closed as I waited for the stinging blow I knew was about to come. To him this was a form of punishment, a way of disciplining me for my transgressions. But to me, this was the beginning of an education in being a little.
I had first met Adrian Fox almost ten years ago now. It was a day I shall never forget. It was the day I almost died.
He had come to visit my brother. They had schooled together for some time and Adrian was to call in on his way down to London. I can remember that day so vividly it is as if it occurred only yesterday though I was but a child.
I should mention that though I call Robert my brother, I was in fact adopted and thus considered the black sheep of the family by both him, my mother and the staff. All except Elsie. My adoptive mother for her part seemed to resent my imposition on her life. It had been her husband who had taken me in when my parents had died.
Considering she was Lady Jennifer Graves, known throughout high society as a philanthropist, you might be forgiven for assuming she would be loving and affectionate towards me.
Occasionally she was, but that was overshadowed by her temper, a fuse so short a bee buzzing too loudly could send her into a rage.
I now believe, with the benefit of hindsight, that Lord Graves had brought me home to please his wife, to nurture her kinder side, hoping that an innocent infant such as myself would bring out the mothering instinct lost since Robert had gone away to school.
Instead he became my guard, keeping her hand away from me, preventing the beatings she would no doubt bestow given half the chance. But when he died soon after my eleventh birthday, Lady Jennifer became even more of an ogre. I still loved her though, confusing as the emotion was to my brain. All I ever wanted was to please her. Perhaps to enjoy something together.
I was in the garden, my hand dipping in and out of the lake as I lay on the verge beside it, the sun too hot to do anything more strenuous. I was in my swimming costume but I had little interest in dipping into the lake. I was not brave enough to venture far from the bank without someone to watch over me and Lady Jennifer was in bed with one of her headaches. My attempts to persuade her to join me by the lake had failed. I had been sent outside with a warning that she was not to be disturbed.
Bored as I was, I lay by the lake and watched the clouds float slowly across the sky, wishing for something exciting to happen.
I heard the horse long before I caught sight of the accompanying trap. I recalled Robert mentioning his friend would call to visit but I doubted anything interesting would result for Robert knew only the dullest of people. I dipped my foot into the lake as the trap rattled past.
“Beautiful day for a swim,” a deep voice called and I glanced around me, wondering who the fellow on the trap could be addressing.
He brought the horse to a stop on the track which led to the house, hopping down and walking across to me. It would be too much to say I fell in love at first sight. I did think he was a handsome man, the dust of the trail upon his black trousers and his kid leather gloves. Despite the heat, he was attired in a smart jacket with elaborately tied cravat sprouting from the top. He was tall, broad shouldered and dark of complexion. A smile played across his lips as he pulled off his gloves and sank onto the grass next to me.
“You must be Robert’s little sister. Cecilia isn’t it?”
I nodded. “I am. How do you know me?”
“Robert and I schooled together for a time. He often spoke of his family.” He leaned conspiratorially towards me, “do not tell him I said this but he was often homesick.”
“My brother homesick?”
“He would cry for his mother.”
It was hard to picture my brother, so cold and imperious as I knew him, could he really ever have cried to come home from school. “He always said he loved his school.”
“Ah, the lies we tell to those we love.”
I turned to dip my feet deeper in the water, enjoying the cold sensation as the sun seemed to burn ever hotter above me. Beside me Adrian looked down into the depths. I smiled at him. “Care for a swim?”
“You would not swim in such dangerous waters at your age surely?”
It was my own bravado that was my undoing. “I am not so young,” I snapped. “And the water is not so dangerous.” With those words I dived in and the sun vanished. Underwater I could see a blurry image of his face watching me until I burst up onto the surface a moment later. “See.”
“I apologise for besmirching your honour,” he said, tipping his hat to me. “You are clearly an expert swimmer.”
“Watch this,” I said, twisting round until I was on my front. I was aiming to reach the far side of the lake but by the time I was a third of the way across I knew I would not make it. The water was far colder than I expected and my arms were tiring. My movements became sluggish as I fought for breath whilst attempting to twist round and head back to the shore.
My feet began to sink as I sought out the bottom of the lake but they merely brushed the weeds beneath me before becoming entangled. I kicked hard to free my legs but as I did so my energy dipped further and my head began to sink beneath the surface.
I rose up and caught a lungful of air, gasping for breath whilst sinking again. I sank down a second later, panic rising up in me as I again tried to free my legs, feeling my arms becoming weaker.
A bubble of air left my mouth and I gasped, sucking in a mouthful of water. How stupid, I thought. To drown in my own lake.
Looking up, I could see the surface moving ever further from me as I sank down to the bed of the lake, more weeds taking hold of my arms as if to drag me down all the quicker.
My lungs burned with the need for breath and I felt certain all was lost. There was a dark movement to my left and I looked that way in time to see a shape darting through the water towards me. A moment later a pair of strong arms had hold of me by the armpits and I was being dragged upwards, the weeds torn away by the brute force of my saviour.
We reached the surface at the same moment, me in his arms. I gasped for air, coughing and spluttering as I glanced over my shoulder, seeing the face of Adrian staring back at me. “Keep still,” he commanded as he swam on his back, his arm wrapped around my chest. He made haste to the shore, not letting go of me for an instant.
Only when I had been heaved onto the verge did he finally loose his grip of me, hauling himself out to collapse panting beside me. I looked across at him, a tendril of something green draped across his arm, his clothes soaking wet and clinging to his skin, his hat nowhere to be seen.
I coughed and spat out a quantity of water, wheezing for air as I slowly sat up, my limbs trembling. “You saved me,” I said, my voice sounding faint as if coming from far away.
“You ruined my best suit you stupid girl,” he replied, getting to his feet and marching away. “Why say you can swim if you cannot?”
I had no answer, my eyes fixed on the grass at my feet.
“Next time I will let you drown.”
I was unable to contain my emotions any longer. A sob escaped me as he climbed back onto the trap and set off for the house. I watched him go whilst feeling utterly wretched.
Eventually my tears subsided and I made my way back to the house. I could hear Adrian and Robert talking politics in the billiard room so I gave it a wide berth, heading up the stairs and along the corridor to my bedroom. My chambermaid was sat in the armchair reading quietly and she rolled her eyes at the sight of my bedraggled state when I entered. “Well off with them,” she said, setting the book down, “before you catch your death.”
She did not ask me why my eyes were bloodshot, indeed she asked nothing at all. I peeled off my swimming costume and stood shivering whilst she found me a towel. “Sit there then,” she said, pointing at my dressing table. “Get the sun on your hair and we’ll sort it out before it dries that way.”
She wrapped the towel around me and I sat looking out of the window at the lake as she ran a brush through my hair. It looked so placid and calm out there, but I now knew the calmest of things could hide hidden dangers. As she tugged at a knot in my hair, I let out a cry and from the end of the corridor I heard a groan.
There was the creak of a door and then the familiar footsteps of Lady Jennifer. “What did I tell you about making noise?” she snapped, lifting the eye mask from her face as she looked in at me. “Answer me Cecilia. Did I or did I not tell you to be silent whilst I rested.”
“Annabelle, leave us.”
My chambermaid curtseyed, taking the hairbrush with her as she walked out onto the landing, pulling the door closed after her.
“Here,” Lady Jennifer hissed. “Do not make me come to you.”
I stood up, holding the towel in place as I took the slow walk of doom across to her.
“This will hurt me far more than it hurts you,” she said. “I could have done without more noise today but you must learn.”
She grabbed my shoulders and spun me round so I was facing the other way. Her hand whipped down onto my buttocks. The pain was incredible but the thick towel prevented it being agony. Nonetheless I yelped after the first and was sobbing by the third. After six blows, the standard for her, I was told to remain silent for the rest of the day.
I look back at such times now and wonder. Was she attempting to discipline me in order for me to learn better behaviour, as she often told me was the case? Or was she instead taking out a sadistic anger on one weaker than herself? With an objective eye, I believe she thought I had taken her husband from her, had caused his death. It was irrational to think in such a way but Lady Jennifer was an irrational woman. She had once sacked a gardener when her roses had wilted, ignoring his protests that she had never let any of the staff tend to them.
I was locked in my room for the remainder of the day as an additional punishment. I lay upon the bed and dreamed of my ideal husband, a fantasy which often brought a smile to my lips after a miserable experience. Of course, at that age I had little knowledge of marriage or the ways of the world. I knew only that I wanted to live with a man who would not let Lady Jennifer hurt me anymore, who would tend for me, care for me, allow me to eat sugared mice for every meal if I so desired.
In my mind he was a knight, incongruously dressed in shining silver armour, arriving on horseback to carry me away from the dragon in Lady Jennifer’s clothes. He would take me to his castle which would be far from here. There he would profess his undying love for me and then we would live happily ever after.
I was still daydreaming about my knightly husband when I turned eighteen. By now my thoughts and fantasies had progressed. I wanted more than just sugared mice from my ideal spouse. I wanted someone to pay attention to me. The older I had become, the more Lady Jennifer ignored me. I came to miss her beatings, for at least whilst they were being administered, she was paying attention to me, interacting with me, speaking to me even if only to admonish my flaws.
There was no celebration of my birthday but the day after I was called into the drawing room and told it was time for me to pay my way.
“I have secured you a position at no small cost,” Lady Jennifer said. “You are to leave tomorrow for Fox Hall.” She waved me away.
“What is the position?” I asked. “And what should I pack?”
“You are still there,” she snarled. “Be gone. I have no wish to discuss the matter further.”
Faith waited at the edge of the park, hoping nobody would appear who might recognise her. She noticed Mortimer’s arrival when he stuck his head out from between two bushes to her left. He looked like a nervous rabbit, one that thought a fox might be waiting to pounce at any moment. She couldn’t help but smile at the sight. He looked utterly ridiculous with that leaf stuck out from the brim of his hat. Behind the bushes the sun had barely risen, the only sound was that of the birds in the trees that lined the park.
“Is the coast clear?” he whispered, taking a tentative step out into the open.
“I think so.”
That much was true. Faith knew it was a gamble to arrange to meet her husband to be when they were not even officially engaged yet. She thought of the public humiliation she would endure if word got out that she had been seen unchaperoned. The fear of what it would mean to her family still weighed heavily upon her. Mortimer emerged at last into the open and brushed himself down. He did look like a rabbit, she thought. The way his head darted left and right, his foot thumping on the ground. All he needed was a set of whiskers and a carrot to complete the picture.
“You look ravishing,” he said, looking at her at last. “You are sure we are alone?”
“I am sure,” she replied, standing up. “But I have no doubt that will not remain the case for long. Say whatever it is you have to say and allow me to return home before father notices I am missing.”
“I have something to show you.” He reached out to take her hand and she allowed him to do so, a deep blush colouring her cheeks. It was forbidden of course. It was all forbidden. To be out unchaperoned, to be alone with a gentleman without being engaged, to be holding his hand. It was all so wrong, she almost swooned. But she did not let go, instead feeling his fingers as they slipped between hers and he turned towards the gates that separated the park from the fields beyond. “Come with me.”
She pulled her hand free of his. The excitement of rebelling in secret was one thing, but to take unnecessary risks was something else entirely. She followed him out of the gates as he checked to ensure there was no one of consequence nearby. There was only a tinker, his eyes closed as he slept at the foot of an enormous oak tree. “Where are we going?” Faith asked as Mortimer headed down a barely visible path between two barley fields. The crop mingled with wildflowers and nettles, the stinging weeds becoming more prevalent the further they walked. “I will be stung if we go any further,” Faith said.
“It opens out in a minute. Trust me.”
The path did widen at the end of the field, though not by much, certainly not enough to walk side by side. Faith followed Mortimer, her questions as to their destination skilfully evaded as he strode onwards. The sun rose higher in the sky, the heat of it already warming the ground, though not quickly enough to dry the dew which soaked into Faith’s shoes and began quickly to penetrate her stockings. “This better be worth it,” she muttered, looking at Mortimer’s back. He no longer looked like a frightened rabbit. Now he looked more like a fox, sniffing out a vulnerable prey with a glee that verged on the sadistic. He was clearly enjoying himself, even humming quietly from time to time as they continued past two more fields and then left onto a deeply rutted and thoroughly overgrown track.
Faith glanced left and right. At one point this had been quite a substantial road. It was lined either side with white stone walls, the work of a skilled waller, the stones themselves fitting together so neatly that no weeds could grow from the cracks. The ivy and nettles had accepted defeat, choosing instead to drape themselves over the wall and from there to encroach upon the track itself. No doubt in a few years there would be no sign that a road had ever existed here at all.
“I insist you tell me where you are leading us,” she said as she stumbled over a patch of bramble, her leg catching on thick tendrils of green, the thorns scratching through her stocking, threatening to ladder them beyond repair. “I am being torn to shreds.”
“It is just around this corner,” he replied. “Please, it will be worth it, I promise.”
Sighing, Faith pulled her stocking free from the thorns as gently as she could. Mortimer had already walked on and by the time she caught up to him he had stopped, waiting by a length of iron railings.
It was an incongruous sight. The road was blocked by what was once an imposing gateway of wrought iron twisted into spirals and curves. Either side of the gate, the vegetation had been cleared away from a length of iron railing, rusty though no less intimidating for that. They were clearly on the edge of a vast estate, though one which had fallen on hard times, if not complete ruin.
“Where are we?” Faith asked. “I hope you do not expect me to climb over that.” She pointed at the gates, a thick length of chain binding the two sides together, secured in place by a substantial padlock from which cobwebs festooned outwards, connecting to the gates in that peculiar way only the most confident spiders are able to manage, the dew dripping to the ground below.
“Look through there,” Mortimer replied, pointing through the gate.
Faith took a step closer, being careful not to touch the metal, knowing her father would not fail to notice rust upon her jacket when she finally returned home from her expedition into the jungle of countryside around Middleton on the Wold.
On the other side of the railings was the oddest sight. What had once been a long sweeping lawn that led up to a country mansion was now a weed coated wilderness. The mansion itself was a wreck, a burned out ruin. The ground floor looked almost complete though the windows lacked glass. From the second floor upwards though only jagged wood and crumbling stone remained with the occasional jutting and scorched roof timber scraping at the sky above. The shape of the few timbers that did remain reminded Faith of a fist, a fist that shook and cursed its fate to the uncaring clouds above.
Her eye was caught by movement in front of the house. There was a set of scaffolding leaning alarmingly upon one corner as if rebuilding work had begun at some point, though if it had, it had long since stalled. Near the scaffolding, a figure was digging. Faith squinted as she examined the figure more closely.
It was a man. The distance between her and the figure made it hard to tell his age but the way his spade worked the ground and he hurled soil onto a pile beside him suggested the energy and strength of youth. She guessed he could be no older than forty though beyond that she could be no more specific. He wore a white shirt, the arms folded up to the elbow like a navvy. He did not wear a hat, a sight that disturbed Faith more she felt it warranted. What was it to her if he was bare headed and his arms were on display? She had never met the man and never would again. So why was she so concerned about his attire? She realised what it was a moment later. Despite his attire and despite his dedication to manual work, there was an aura about him that suggested he was a gentleman, though one quite different to Mortimer. It was hard to pinpoint how she was so sure, just the manner with which he paused to wipe his brow with a handkerchief, the upright stance he adopted as he glanced in their direction, the opprobrium which was clear upon his features even at this distance. He picked up his spade and strode towards her, shaking it as he did so.
“Come on,” Mortimer said, tugging at her arm. “It will not do to be accosted at this juncture.”
He darted back down the lane and Faith followed him, though she paused for just a second to look back at the man. He had stopped when he realised they were moving away, watching them with his arms folded, the spade wedged in the ground beside him. She could see him better now. Her first guess was not far off the mark. He was around thirty-five or forty, broad shoulders, the muscles of his arms were noticeable, as if he had not just been digging this morning, but had perhaps been doing it long enough to be halfway to China by now. His head was topped by a mess of black hair, he was clearly someone who cared little for appearances. She felt his eyes on her back as she picked up her heels and strode off after Mortimer.
She found him around the next corner, leaning upon the dry stone wall. The surrounding ivy looked as if it might swallow him up if he took his eyes from it for long enough, moving slightly in the warm breeze. His arms were folded also and Faith found herself comparing them with the strange figure in the estate. She realised it was an unfair comparison. For one, Mortimer’s arms were hidden within his coat. For another, he had never needed to labour manually at any task. From entirely respectable stock, the heaviest load Mortimer had ever shifted was the kippers he insisted on for both breakfast and luncheon. Faith knew well of his prandial habits as the smell of smoked fish lingered. There were times when she wondered if she should mention it but she had never wanted to risk offending the man who was to be her husband some day.
“I suppose you are wondering why I brought you out here,” he said when she reached him.
“Not at all. I delight in rising from bed at five to sneak out into the countryside, rip my stockings, and soak my feet. Perhaps tomorrow I should jump directly into a bramble to save the effort of travel.”
“What did you think of the man you saw?”
Faith hesitated before answering. “I thought nothing. Who was he? A gardener?”
“Hardly. That was Jonathan Hardcastle.”
Faith was surprised. She had heard of the Hardcastle name of course. All of Middleton on the Wold knew the name, it was even emblazoned upon the village pub, The Hardcastle Arms. They had once been a notable family in the region though hard times had fallen upon them many generations ago. All she knew of Jonathan was that he worked for a living, a scandal in itself amongst the gossiping set, though she had no idea in what field he was employed.
Mortimer continued, “That was the family estate.” He tapped his foot on the ground in front of him, a comparison to a rabbit popping unbidden into Faith’s mind once more. “This was the private road to Hardcastle Hall.”
“What happened?” Faith asked, looking at the track, finding it impossible to think of this rutted and overgrown lane ever having carriages rolling along it.
“Therein lies the reason why I brought you here. Allow me to tell you the tale.”
“Tell me whilst we perambulate for my absence will soon be missed.”
“Of course, how remiss of me.” He stepped away from the wall and once more walked in front of her, sending his words back over his shoulder as they walked. “Their fortunes began to decline before the Civil War. There was a rumour that Sir Hardcastle had brought a diamond back with him from an expedition to India. Said it would restore the family fortunes once and for all. But when the war broke out he was a marked man, having been open about his support for the King. When Cromwell swept through here, Hardcastle buried the diamond in the grounds just in case.”
“What happened?” Faith asked, finding it strange to think of war ever coming to such a peaceful corner of the country.
“He was executed.”
“Oh my goodness.”
A silence descended upon them until Faith found it impossible to contain her curiosity any longer. “But what of the diamond?”
“Ah, there’s the rub. No one knows. He took the location of its final resting place to his own final resting place, as it were.”
Faith had to resist lashing out at Mortimer as he chuckled. “That is a man’s soul you jest about.”
“I apologise. That was inappropriate. Perhaps you would rather I keep this story to myself.”
“I did not say that,” Faith replied, knowing she could not learn this much without seeing the story to its end. “Pray continue.”
“You may have noticed the holes in the ground through there. The family muddled on through after the death of Sir Hardcastle. Things might even have calmed if not for the fire.”
“After Sir Hardcastle was killed, the house was set ablaze. The generations between then and now spent every penny they could upon its restoration. It was nearing completion when Jonathan inherited the estate. He came home with his new bride but only a week after they moved in, the place caught fire once more. His wife died in the blaze and Hardcastle Hall has remained how you saw it ever since. As for Jonathan, seeks out the diamond for himself, though he seeks in vain.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he is looking in the wrong place.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
Faith looked up at Mortimer as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellowed envelope. He turned and gave her only a glimpse of it before cramming it back into his pocket.
“What was that?”
“I was reading through my own family history when I found this letter hidden amongst the belongings of my great uncle. It was from Sir Hardcastle to an ancestor of my own, confiding in him the location of the diamond and beseeching him to keep the information secret from Cromwell’s men.”
By this time, Mortimer had reached the gates to the park and here he paused, seeing a couple strolling through arm in arm. He sighed as he watched them. “It’s all right for them,” he said. “When will we be able to do that? Walk openly together without caring who sees us?”
“So you know where the diamond is?” Faith asked, drawing his attention back to her.
“Then why not tell him?”
“I have a far better idea,” he replied, his eyes narrowing. “We dig up the diamond and keep it for ourselves.”
“You cannot be serious.”
“I found many things in the letters of my great uncle. The Hardcastle estate once belonged to us. It was taken from us in a crooked game, the entire place gambled on the roll of a die. The die was weighted. We were swindled. Just think Faith, we could sell the diamond and run away somewhere together. Somewhere no one knows us.” He reached out and brushed her arm. “Perhaps even start a family?”
Faith felt a tug upon her the strings of her heart. It was the first time Mortimer had ever mentioned children. When she had whispered to her friends of her interest in him, they had warned her against pursuing him. Rumours clung to him, they said, that he took what he wanted from women before moving on. But someone who desired a family would never be that callous, surely?
“I need you to get it for me,” he said, drawing her from the mental image of the two of them sat by the fire, children at their knee.
“Me? Why on earth do you need me?”
“I have attempted many times to get into the estate but it is too well guarded. At night hounds roam freely, during the day either Jonathan or his groundskeepers patrol the borders.”
“Then how on earth do you expect me to get in there?”
“I do not.”
“You are not making any sense Mortimer.”
He smiled. “You get in there by invitation.”
“Invitation? How do you expect me to be invited into there?”
“I have thought long and hard Faith, I can see only one way.” He paused.
“Well, what is it?”
“You tell your father you wish to marry Jonathan Hardcastle. Once he agrees to the engagement, you dig up the diamond and off we go.”
Faith was shocked to her core. “But how could I possibly break off an engagement?”
“It will not matter We will run away together and begin a new life, somewhere where nobody will know anything of our past. It will matter not one whit what any here think of us.”
“But Mortimer, I wish to be engaged to you.”
“And you will, once we are settled somewhere. What do you think?”
Faith looked into the park, noticing the people beginning to walk along the ribbons of grey between the flat expanse of green. “I must return home,” she said.
“You must tell me what you think of my plan first. Will you do this for me Faith?”
“I will think about it,” she replied before darting back into the park, leaving Mortimer and his pleading expression far behind. She walked briskly, unable to stop herself from thinking about the diamond the way it glittered and turned in the light of her daydreams. Somehow she felt within its facets were hidden both salvation and destruction and which would prevail was impossible to foretell.
Things have changed so much in just a few short weeks I can scarcely believe it. If I had been informed that I would ever enjoy the feel of a strong man’s hand slapping down upon my bared buttocks, I would have thought the idea preposterous. Yet there I was, my wrists bound to a pole, my body bent at the waist, my posterior exposed, awaiting the stinging sensation that I had come to know so well, the one that told me three things at once. First, that I was a bad girl in need of punishment. The second, that I desired the punishment more than anything else I could imagine. And finally, that I was completely smitten with the man standing behind me about to administer the spanking I so sinfully desired and so richly deserved.
My tale begins, as many so often do, at home. It was not the most glamorous of houses, nor the richest, but it was mine. It was free from damp, free from draughts, and filled with all the modern conveniences a woman could want in the year of our Lord 18xx.
I will not tell you the address, for those who still live in the vicinity would not appreciate the staring gaze of those wishing to investigate the location I discuss. For that matter, I have changed the names of all those concerned within this tale, excepting myself. My name is Ella Stirling and as our story begins, I had just finished celebrating the passing of my nineteenth birthday. A small gathering took place on the day itself, consisting chiefly of myself, my mother and father, and the gentleman who intended to become my husband.
The occasion was a merry one, for my part I expected Mr Owen Henson to take my father aside and ask for my hand. But by the evening, this had still not taken place and thus I found myself meeting Mr Henson in the garden, so as to question to him regarding the delay.
“Why do you dally?” I asked, once I was certain we were out of earshot of the house. “The evening draws on apace and soon father will bid you be gone that he might rest.”
Owen seemed unable to look at me at first, his features contorting as he paced back and forth between two rose bushes, looking for all the world as if he were in the midst of a most perplexing dilemma.
“Owen,” I called out, stopping him and taking his hand in mind. “Whatever is the matter my dear?”
At last he stopped, raising his eyes to mine with a look of abject misery sweeping across his features. “I have lost the rings,” he said, screwing up his face and turning away from me. “I have lost the rings.”
I was dumbfounded. In order to prove to father his intentions towards me were honourable, Owen had procured two rings at no small cost. He had not yet let me see them, for it would be bad luck to do so, as he told me, before gaining the approval of my father.
“How did you lose them?” I asked as his shoulders sagged and he maintained his position facing firmly away from me.
“What does it matter?” he snapped. “They are gone. We shall not be wed. Oh, that I were a more observant fellow. You will be better off without me.”
“Come, come,” I admonished him, squeezing his shoulder with my hand. “Tell me where you lost them and we shall seek them out. I have no doubt Providence will provide for those of stout heart and noble disposition.”
He turned towards me then, a glimmer of hope in his eyes as his lip trembled. I could tell he was awash with guilt at what had transpired. “You would seek them out?”
“Of course I would. Why would I not?”
“Oh but if you only knew where they were, you would not make so bold as to suggest a venture to retrieve them, a venture which could only end in disgrace.”
“Where are they?”
“I know exactly where they are Miss Stirling. They are in the house of Price.”
For the second time in as many minutes, shock wracked my mind and my body. I have no doubt you have heard the stories about Anderson Price. Rumours have encircled the man and his home ever since he inherited the family seat. Wild rumours which I shall not degrade myself in repeating here. Suffice it to say, the very idea of an innocent woman such as myself attending his house would be enough to disgrace my entire family. “How did they end up there?” I asked as Owen wrung my hands in his own. “What were you doing in the house of Price?”
“I was not at his home. He was attending Black’s whilst I was there. He inveigled his way into the game I was playing, a most innocent game I should add.” He no doubt saw the disapproving frown which crossed my features. “We were betting for the smallest of stakes my love, be assured of that above all else. There was Butler, Jenkins, and myself. We needed a fourth and along he came. I bid him to leave us alone for I wanted nothing to do with his type. But you know Jenkins, too welcoming for his own good.”
From behind me I heard my mother’s voice calling, “Are you out there Ella? I cannot find Mr Henson.”
“I will be in shortly,” I called back. “Try upstairs. I believe he wanted to examine your new painting.” I had no intention of letting mother know I was outside unchaperoned with Owen. “Continue,” I said to him, satisfied that mother was not coming outside to investigate for herself.
“Where was I? Oh yes, so there I was, winning a handsome sum.”
“I thought you were playing for small stakes.”
“I mean a handsome sum in relation to the stakes,” he replied, smiling weakly. “I was up ninepence and Price was down by at least double that. Well he clearly could not handle losing and he cashed out, bidding us a good night. It was only after he left that I established that the rings were no longer safely hidden in the inside pocket of my jacket.”
“Can you be sure it was Price who took them?”
“I am certain.”
“Because he waved them at me through the window as he climbed onto his horse. I of course attempted to run after him, sprinting until I almost passed out. But his horse was fleet footed and he was away, laughing at me as he went.”
“So Anderson Price has the rings.”
Owen nodded. “And unless you visit his house to retrieve them, we cannot be wed.”
“Could you not undertake this task?”
“Oh my love, nothing would give me greater pleasure. But he would recognise me, his staff will have been given my description. I doubt I could get anywhere near the place before his hounds were released.”
“A constable then, should we instead inform them?”
“Alas we cannot. Price has them all in his pocket alongside the rings. The first word of an official enquiry and he would dispose of the rings in the river just to spite us both. No, it must be done quietly and it must be you my love. Would that it could be done any other way.”
“But what would be said if it became known that I travelled to the house of Price on my own, unchaperoned? It would create a scandal. You know how weak my father’s heart has been recently.”
“That is why it must be done. Think not just of the love you have for me, think of how happy your father will be to know you are betrothed.”
“I am not happy about this undertaking.”
“It is a mere trifle Miss Stirling. All you need do is find the safe within his house for I have no doubt that is where he will keep the rings. Retrieve them, return to me and we can marry post-haste.” He brushed his hand over my cheek. “If you love me, you would do this for me.”
“Ella, are you still out there!” Mother called me again, this time louder than before.
“Coming mother,” I replied before turning back to Owen. “Walk round to the front of the house, do not let her think we have been out here together.”
“Wait,” Owen said as I turned away. “Will you do this for me?”
“Yes,” I said after a pause. “I will.”
“Oh that is wonderful,” he beamed, kissing the back of my hand. “Promise me you will seek out the rings and nothing else in that house.”
“What on earth do you mean?”
“Ella!” mother shouted again.
“There are things that take place in that house that are not suitable for a decent person to see,” Owen said, letting go of my hand at last. “You must be careful.”
“I am capable of looking after myself,” I said, walking back up the garden path towards the house. “I am sure nothing unpleasant will befall me.”
Mother was waiting on the doorstep for me. “I could not find Mr Henson,” she said as she glanced over my shoulder. “He was not out there with you was he?”
“Of course not mother. What kind of person do you think I am?”
“I do not know. You are nineteen now and perhaps you think yourself old enough to have midnight trysts in the moonlight.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh mother, you worry too much. Now let us go seek out Mr Henson and I have no doubt you will find him somewhere within the house. Unless of course I have left him ravished on the grass.”
“Do not joke about such things,” mother scolded me. “It is not proper.”
The rest of the evening passed swiftly for my mind was elsewhere. What little I knew of Mr Price kept entering my mind and interfering with my thoughts. There was his house, Price Manor. It was guarded behind wrought iron railings and an ostentatious gate manned day and night. None entered without permission. The house itself was set far from the road, hidden behind a row of lime trees that seemed deliberately planted to shield the property from prying eyes. I had seen the house itself only once, many years before.
As a child I had taken it upon myself to explore everywhere that was forbidden. I had delved into the cellars below my own home, my candle blowing out while I was down there, leaving me crying in the darkness until one of the maids retrieved me, cursing all the while that I should know better than to disobey my parents.
I had climbed the bell tower of the church, carving my initials into the top rung of the ladder. Though faded, you can still make out the E and S there today, for of course that was when my surname was still Stirling.
The adventure which led to my giving up my life of exploration was the one which gave me a view of Price Manor. I had been walking through the woods which bordered the Price estate, and as I did so, I noticed a gardener passing through a gate with a bucket, heading for the wild garlic which grew in abundance near the riverside. He left the gate unlocked and I ran through before he noticed me, exhilarated to think this was an exploration of which I would be able to boast to all the other children in my village. I was barely inside the grounds when I heard a sobbing coming from behind a curve of beech trees which formed a wind barrier between the house and a pond which lay hidden within.
Slowing to a walk I peered around the end tree, finding beyond was a boy no older than myself, his head in his hands, his shoulders shaking as tears wracked his frame. “Do not cry,” I said as I took a step towards him. “It will be all right.”
“No it will not,” he snapped, looking up at me. I gasped at the face of the child before me. His skin was pale, as if he rarely saw the sun. There was an ugly bruise on his right cheek and the eye above it was swollen. “Who are you anyway?”
“My name’s Ella,” I said, holding out my hand towards him. “How do you do?”
“You are trespassing Ella,” he replied. “If father were to find out…” His words faded away and he resumed crying.
“Did your father do that?” I asked, kneeling beside him.
A loud voice suddenly boomed from the other side of the beech trees. “Anderson, if you do not come inside this minute I shall see to it that you will not walk for a week.”
“You must go,” the boy said, leaping to his feet. “Quickly, before he catches you.”
But it was too late. A mountain of a man, dressed in immaculate tweed, appeared a second later, his shadow looming over the two of us. At a glance he took in the trembling boy and myself. “Playing with girls,” the man sneered. “I might have known.”
“Father, I…” His head sank and his lips closed slowly.
“Inside,” the man said. “And as for you.” He reached out and grabbed my arm, his fingers digging into my skin as I protested loudly.
“You are hurting me.”
“Good, perhaps that will teach you not to trespass on my property.”
Ignoring my pitiful wails as he gripped me ever tighter, he dragged me to the front of his house and thrust me into the arms of a passing groom. “Get rid of her,” he growled before turning and marching up the steps two at a time.
My memories of that day came back to me most strongly as I thought about returning to Price Manor. Of course, the father was long dead and Anderson was now owner of that vast estate. But the thought of returning there brought a nervous anxiety to me, as if I thought I would again be thrown from there in disgrace, my parents informed that I was a trespasser who would be shot if I attempted to ingress upon Price property again.
I lay in bed that night thinking about that childhood experience. I dreamed of being caught by Anderson Price, as tall and powerful as his father, myself littler than ever, a mere inch or two high. He picked me up and hurled me through the air as if I were a branch from a tree, thrown for one of his hounds to catch. I landed with a jolt which woke me up and I found myself laid panting in bed, lying and awaiting the return of a sleep which would not come. Thus ends the first chapter in the story of how I, Ella Stirling, not only took up residence in the house of Price, but also willingly submitted to his rough hand turning my posterior the brightest shade of crimson known to man.