The Great Marvolo
Author's Note: Thanks to Jennifer Harrison for her assistance, and for letting me read her great-great grandmother's diary.
My father, Sir Charles Harrison, FRS, DPhil, was dying. He had been dying for months, but now, in this first week of June, 1889, the end was near. He was wracked by another spasm of coughing, and the cloth he held to his lips was stained with blood. "Jenny, come closer," he whispered.
I moved closer to his bed. "Yes, I'm here."
"I'm fading fast, child, so listen carefully. First let me say how much I regret that you wasted your youth caring for me. You should have been mingling in society. A girl as beautiful as you would have had no trouble finding a suitable husband. Now you're a spinster."
"Oh, Father! I'm only 23. I'm not on the shelf yet. The students pay plenty of attention to me, although talk of marriage has been notable by its absence."
"Students, bah! Most of them want nothing more than physical pleasure from a beautiful young woman. I'm glad you realize that."
"I do, Father. The only one who was different was Robert. He said he loves me, and I have feelings for him." Speaking of Robert reminded me of something I had not told my father. "I forgot to mention that I received a letter from Robert today. He has safely arrived in Australia. He said he plans to leave Perth and travel into the interior."
My feelings for Robert were stronger than I implied. On the night before he departed we made love, the first and only time I have done so. It was not unpleasant, apart from a brief moment of pain, but I did not experience the passion that I had anticipated. Perhaps it was because were were both inexperienced and perhaps because the circumstances were not ideal. For whatever reason, I could appreciate the truth of the conventional wisdom; that marital sex is a husband's right and a wife's duty, however unpleasant she found it to be.
"Robert is a fine lad, but, frankly, he was not the best of my students, always wasting his time with impossible schemes instead of concentrating on the fundamentals. I hope he does well in Australia, because he's even poorer than we are. He could barely support himself, let alone a wife, and he had no prospects in England."
"Poorer than we are? Are we poor, Father?"
"I'm afraid so. I made some unwise investments and lost what little capital we had. All we have now is my salary. This house and its staff are provided by the College, and when I die they will not be available to you. Your education has been unconventional, and it has not prepared you to support yourself in today's world. Even in these modern times the only real choices for most women are marriage or, or ..."
"Prostitution? My unconventional education has taught me about the realities of the world, and also about human sexuality. You should know this, you instructed me yourself."
My father smiled. "You never were one for euphemisms, were you? Prostitution isn't the only choice, although for a girl raised as you have been the alternatives are not much better. Ideally, you would be married to a man who could provide for you and whom you might come to love. You may yet meet such a man, but since you need a living now I have found a position for you. Lady Agnes Dalrimple, whom I have known for almost 30 years, is going to tour the Continent and she needs a traveling companion. She expects to spend the summer and autumn in Germany and the winter in Italy. Agnes is a great admirer of all things German, and especially of Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor. She also hopes to obtain an audience with the new emperor, Wilhelm II."
"What would be my duties as her traveling companion, besides providing the usual appearance of propriety?
"Agnes wants you to handle the details of the trip; buy the train tickets, make the hotel reservations, supervise the porters, all of the mundane tasks involved in traveling. She offered the position as a favor to me and as a token of our long friendship, but what really persuaded her to accept you was your ability to speak German, French, and Italian. She will pay you ten pounds per month, and will also pay all of your expenses, of course." He paused as another bout of coughing consumed him. "There is something else I must mention. Agnes has never married, even though she was a beauty in her youth and an heiress besides. She turned down literally dozens of proposals. She is..."
"Of the Sapphic persuasion?"
"Now who's resorting to euphemisms? Bluntly, Agnes likes to have sex with women. She has never made a secret of this; in fact, she boasts of it. It seems one can flout convention with impunity when one is rich, and also the daughter of a duke. Her partners have never been women of her own age and class, they have always been younger, more dependant women, women she can dominate. Her personal maid is her current lover, but she may try to seduce you. Are you comfortable with this?"
I shrugged. "I don't care what her sexual preferences are, and I suppose being forced to accept a noblewoman as a lover is better than working in a brothel. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. I don't have a lot of options."
* * *
My father died later that night. His funeral took place a few days later and it was attended by all of his colleagues and most of his students. Lady Agnes was the only outsider present. After offering the usual condolences she arranged to meet me later, and that evening she called upon me.
"Ah, Jenny! You are the image of your mother when she was your age. She had the same brown eyes, the same red hair. And she was beautiful, just as you are. What a tragedy that she died so young."
"Thank you for the complement, Lady Agnes. I'm sure my life would have taken a different course if my mother had survived my birth."
Although Lady Agnes must be in her forties if she was a contemporary of my father, she still possessed much of the beauty of her youth. She was an inch or two taller than my 5' 4", and her body was well-shaped, with a large bosom and a slim waist, both accentuated by her corset and tight bodice. Her eyes were green, and her light brown hair did not show any visible gray.
After a moment of silence Lady Agnes continued. "Jenny, your father and I negotiated your remuneration and the other terms of your employment. Did he discuss them with you and are they satisfactory to you?"
"Yes, Lady Agnes. You are quite generous."
"I do not mind paying for value received. If you follow my rules and perform your duties diligently you will be rewarded, but if you fail you must expect to be penalized. Do you agree that this is fair?
"Yes, Lady Agnes. That seems fair."
"Good, then you understand what I expect from you. I want to travel to the Continent as soon as possible. Are you prepared to leave immediately?"
"Yes, Lady Agnes. I have disposed of what remained of my father's estate. He had distributed his library and most of his other possessions to his colleagues before he died. One of them has offered to store my belongings, mostly books. I've packed my traveling clothes and I can depart whenever you wish."
"Very good. Tomorrow we will travel to London and spend a few days at my hotel while making the final arrangements to travel to Berlin by way of Paris. I will call for you here tomorrow morning at 8 AM sharp."
I spent the rest of the evening doing all of the last minute tasks that suddenly seemed to appear. It was a wrenching experience to leave the home of my youth, but with my father gone there was nothing to hold me here. My last act before retiring was to write a letter to Robert, telling him of my father's death and of my employment with Lady Agnes. Since the only address I had for him was 'GPO, Perth, Western Australia', I did not know when, or if, he would receive it.
The next morning Lady Agnes appeared on schedule. The coachman loaded my trunk into the boot and we drove to the railway station. A young woman was in the carriage, sitting next to Lady Agnes. She was blonde with light blue eyes and a voluptuous figure that her drab clothes could not hide. Lady Agnes introduced us. "Jenny, this is Betsy, my personal maid. Betsy, this is Miss Jennifer Harrison, my companion."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Jennifer," Betsy cooed. I responded with a nod. Betsy and Lady Agnes were practically in each other's laps, confirmation, if any was needed, of my father's information.
Soon we were on the train to London and we arrived without incident. Lady Agnes gave me some coins. "Find some porters and get us a cab, Jenny. I want you to demonstrate your ability to act as my companion."
So I began my new life as Lady Agnes' quasi-servant. I was mildly insulted by her implication that I could not perform mundane tasks, though. I may be provincial, but I'm not completely unaware of the routines of the metropolis. But I didn't comment, I just obtained a cab and got our luggage loaded into it. Remarkably, we journeyed without incident to our hotel. I was able to oversee the bellboys, difficult as that might be, and soon we were installed in the suite Lady Agnes had reserved.
Our suite contained a sitting room, a large bedroom, and a small bedroom, which was assigned to me. Lady Agnes insisted that I unpack immediately and she inspected my wardrobe. "This is totally inadequate, Jenny. I would be ashamed to be seen with a companion whose clothes are as shabby as these, and your luggage would be rejected by Gypsies. The shops are still open. We must remedy this at once."
I protested, "It is true that my clothes are somewhat worn and unfashionable, Lady Agnes, but I am without the means to purchase replacements."
"Good clothes are necessary, so they are considered to be expenses, for which I agreed to pay. Come, time is limited."
And away we went. We toured numerous shops and bought items that I never considered before, a corset among them. Before we were finished Lady Agnes had spent more than fifty pounds to outfit me. We also stopped in a bookshop and I bought some Baedekers and railway timetables.
That evening Lady Agnes and I ate an unfashionably early dinner in the hotel dining room, because she wanted to attend a performance at a music hall. "I know many consider them to be vulgar", she half-apologized, "but I enjoy them. You must come with me, Jenny, because if I go alone I will be endlessly propositioned by vulgar louts looking for a lady of the evening."
I had never been to a music hall and this was not much of an inducement to attend one. However, Lady Agnes did employ me to be her companion, and this definitely fell into that category, so I accompanied her to a hall called the 'Empire', located near Leicester Square. We took seats in the stalls, the higher-priced seats. The rest of the room was filled with the lower classes, and while there was a good bit of noise before the program began it was good-humored. Every man in the house seemed to be using tobacco, and the hall filled with choking clouds of smoke, much to my annoyance.
There were over a dozen acts listed on the program; singers and dancers and comedians. Some were good, others less so, but all were tolerable. Two acts that I especially enjoyed were a comic sketch, 'The Water Board Man', and an American cowboy who rode a magnificent horse onstage and performed amazing rope tricks. At the end of the regular bill was a 'Special Performance', featuring an illusionist billed as 'The Great Marvolo'.
The placard announcing the next act was placed on the stage, proclaiming "The Great Marvolo & Bella". ('Bella' was in much smaller type than 'The Great Marvolo'). Marvolo was a tall, handsome man, with black hair and moustache, clad in the stage magician's standard garb of tailcoat and white tie. His assistant Bella was a beautiful young woman with long dark hair, worn in a loose single braid that trailed down her back to below her waist. She was wearing a scandalous costume; white, sequined tights and top, with a tiny pleated blue skirt that didn't reach her knees. She was completely covered except for her head and forearms, but the tight costume fitted her like a coat of paint, perfectly revealing her slim yet shapely body.
Marvolo performed the usual conjuring tricks; pulling a rabbit out of a hat, making coins disappear, and levitating Bella, making it appear that she floated in the air. Even I had seen this sort of thing before, and the audience, while tolerant, was not enthusiastic. This changed, however, when the stagehands brought out two posts, each six inches thick and almost six feet tall, and bolted them to the floor. This took some time, and while it was going on Marvolo appealed to the audience for volunteers. Eventually three men and two women climbed onto the stage, Lady Agnes among them.
Marvolo provided yards and yards of white rope, and the male volunteers used it to bind Bella to the left-hand post. They crossed and tied her hands behind it and then wrapped more rope around her body and the post until she was bound from neck to ankles. The men were rather enthusiastic and certainly not gentle, pulling the rope tightly enough to indent her flesh. When they finished Marvolo had the women inspect the result and affirm that Bella was completely helpless. He gave the women red silk ribbons to interweave among the ropes around Bella's torso.
Marvolo then covered the post and Bella with a blue velvet drape. This drape had a stiff circular top, so when Marvolo placed it on top of the post and released it, it formed a blue cylinder, completely hiding the post and its captive woman from view. He then covered the empty right-hand post with a similar drape. After some 'mystic incantations' and similar mumbo-jumbo Marvolo uncovered the left-hand post and it was empty! There was a gasp of surprise from the audience. Marvolo uncovered the right-hand post and revealed the young woman, still bound. The ropes and the red ribbons were in the same places as before. There was another gasp from the audience and then enthusiastic applause.
Marvolo covered Bella's post and the empty post and again said the mystic incantations. When he removed the cover and revealed the right-hand post it was empty, except for loops of rope around its base. He removed the cover from the other post and the young woman stepped away from it, completely free of her bonds. She took a bow to tremendous applause.
But the performance was not over. The stagehands rolled out to center stage a wooden cabinet, which I estimated to be about three feet wide and eight feet tall, mounted on a wide base about a foot and a half thick. The front of the cabinet was made of thick glass, with two four-inch wide iron straps wrapped completely around the cabinet as reinforcements, one about three feet down from the top, the other about three feet up from the bottom. At the top of the cabinet, in one corner of the glass, was a clock. It had a single unmoving hand and its face was divided into six parts. The cabinet was almost completely filled with water.
Marvolo now addressed the audience. He had a German accent, but he could be clearly understood. "Ladies and gentlemen, this next trick is very dangerous, and only years of training allows Bella to perform it and live." Two stagehands brought out a heavy wooden box and dumped a pile of thick chains on the floor. Marvolo turned to the volunteers on the stage, four shiny black padlocks in his hands. "If you would assist me, gentlemen. First examine the chain and these locks and affirm that they are genuine." The three men did this, rather perfunctorily, I thought.
Then they proceeded to chain up Bella. Marvolo produced shiny black handcuffs, and a male volunteer locked Bella's hands behind her back. Another volunteer, guided by Marvolo, wrapped a chain diagonally over each of her shoulders and through her crotch, locking it in place with a padlock placed over her navel; this action brought a murmur from the audience. The third volunteer wound a long chain around her torso above and below her breasts, this chain fastened by a separate lock between her breasts. Finally, Marvolo himself locked a chain around her waist, then wound it down her legs and around her ankles, fastening it with the fourth padlock.
Marvolo addressed the women on stage, "Ladies, please examine the locks and chain. Will you confirm that Bella is inescapably bound?" Lady Agnes and the other female volunteer examined the chains on Bella's bound body, then they nodded.
Marvolo produced a small object from his pocket and held it up. "This is a common nail. Bella will use it to pick the locks and free herself. It is not a key of any sort." He handed it to one of the volunteers. "Will you confirm this?" The volunteers passed it around. When it reached Lady Agnes, Marvolo instructed, "Put the nail in Bella's right hand." Lady Agnes did so, and Bella clutched it in her fist.
A stagehand rolled out a stairway with a platform at the top and placed it up against the cabinet. Marvolo picked up Bella and put her over his left shoulder. He climbed the stairs and stood Bella next to him on the platform. "Now for the final step, ladies and gentlemen. I am going to submerge Bella in the water and close the lid. The lid is locked in place by a latch that can only be opened from the inside. Only Bella can open it, so she will be cut off from any outside help. She can reach the latch only if she can float to the top of the water, and the weight of any of the three chains will keep her submerged. She must free herself from them completely or she drowns."
Marvolo lowered Bella into the water and she immediately sank to the bottom. Marvolo slammed the thick wooden lid closed and started the clock, which began counting off minutes. The orchestra played music with a tension-building tempo. The water was somewhat murky, but I could see Bella twisting and turning, crouching then standing. Occasionally she released bubbles of air from her mouth. As time passed I grew more tense, and I'm sure the rest of the audience felt the same, for there was not a sound except for the ominous music.
Marvolo descended from the platform and stood beside the cabinet, looking out at the audience with his arms folded. After a minute or so he glanced into the cabinet, and then he started to fidget, apparently concerned by Bella's lack of progress, for her hands were still behind her back and none of the chains had been loosened. I had a terrible thought: What if she had dropped the nail? Was I going to see a young woman drown right before my eyes? I looked away from her, watching Marvolo instead.
After three minutes had gone by there were cries from the audience and soon someone shouted, "Get her out!" Marvolo responded with a shrug and upraised hands, then pointed to the latch on the top of the cabinet and shook his head. By now Bella had been underwater for almost five minutes and I looked back at the cabinet, fearing the worst. I was astounded to see Bella open the last padlock and kick the chain off her ankles, then swim to the top of the cabinet. She pushed open the lid and rested with her chin on the top edge. Marvolo quickly climbed the stairs and helped her stand on the platform. They bowed and the audience responded with cheers and applause as the curtain closed.
When Lady Agnes joined me she was exhilarated. "That was the most amazing act I have ever seen! I have no idea how Bella was able to escape. I know the locks and chains were genuine and they were tight on her body. How could she possibly pick all those locks with an ordinary nail? And how could she hold her breath for so long? As Marvolo said, she must have had years of training, yet she is so young. This has been an exciting evening."
I could agree with that.
* * *
The next morning I awakened to the sound of shouting. I put on my dressing gown and entered the sitting room. Lady Agnes was berating Betsy. "You worthless baggage! I told you to press my blue gown and it hasn't been touched! What have you to say for yourself?"
"I'm sorry, my lady. I just forgot."
"Then perhaps I had better help you remember. Get the discipline bag."
"Oh no, my lady! Please, no." Betsy started to sniffle and I saw tears on her cheeks.
"Silence! Do as you are told."
Betsy entered Lady Agnes' bedroom and returned with a black leather Gladstone bag. She handed it to Lady Agnes, who commanded, "Strip! And be quick about it!"
To my amazement Betsy immediately took off all of her clothes and stood naked, with her hands at her sides. While she was doing this Lady Agnes took a peculiar brass object out of the bag. It was a strip of metal about an inch wide and an eighth inch thick. One end was formed into a square hook and the other end was bent into a ring. She put the hook over the top of the bedroom door and closed it, so the ring was accessible.
Lady Agnes took some thin white rope out of the bag. "Give me your hands, Betsy."
Betsy obediently clasped her hands and held them out. Lady Agnes wrapped the rope around Betsy's wrists a half-dozen times, knotted it, and then made several more turns between her wrists. Next, Lady Agnes fed the rope through the ring at the top of the door and pulled until Betsy stood on tiptoe. She tied off the rope to the doorknob and extracted a riding crop from the bag. "I think ten would be an appropriate number. Do you agree, Betsy?"
"Yes, my lady."
I was finally able to overcome my shock at seeing this bizarre scene. "Lady Agnes! Surely you do not intend to whip this girl. We are near the end of the nineteenth century, not the eighteenth. This is no longer acceptable."
Lady Agnes turned to me. "I want silence from you, too. How I maintain order in my household is my business, and I don't appreciate your interference. You agreed to follow my rules, did you not?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"You also agreed to be penalized if you did not, isn't that true?"
"Yes, but... "
"Would you like to take Betsy's place?"
"No, of course not!"
"Perhaps that would be too harsh for your first offence. But you need to understand who is in command here, and I need to be sure you will do as you are told. Stand in the corner!"
Lady Agnes pointed to a corner of the sitting room. "Stand in that corner, with your face to the wall."
This was a turning point. It was obvious that if I did not obey her she would dismiss me, and I would be in desperate straights. To be punished as though I were a naughty child was humiliating, yet she did have a reasonable argument. I had agreed to follow her rules, and it was presumptuous of me to criticize her. And Betsy wasn't complaining. I now realized this must be a common occurrence in their relationship; I had read about such things, and their possession of specialized equipment confirmed it. I silently walked to the corner and stood there.
Lady Agnes moved behind me and pressed a book to my forehead. "Hold this in place against the walls. If you let it fall you will experience Betsy's punishment. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Lady Agnes. I'm sorry I interfered, I won't do it again."
"This punishment will help you remember that promise. Put your hands behind your back."
I did so, and was not surprised when Lady Agnes crossed my wrists and tightly bound them together with the thin rope. This was the first time in my life that my hands had been tied, and it produced some unusual feelings, feelings I could not interpret.
I heard the smack of the crop, and there was no mistaking Betsy's feelings. She let out a muffled scream. I couldn't turn my head to look, but it sounded like she was gagged. She screamed after every stroke, and when they stopped she was sobbing. Soon after this Lady Agnes left the suite, leaving us miscreants to suffer by ourselves, each in her own way. While my punishment did not compare to Betsy's it was still unpleasant. I did not dare move, for I was sure that I would be beaten if the book fell, and standing in one place soon became uncomfortable, not to mention boring.
An hour or so later Lady Agnes returned. She untied Betsy and told her to get dressed and start packing. Then she came over to me. "So, Jenny. What have you learned from this experience?"
"I learned several things, Lady Agnes. First, she who pays the piper calls the tune. If I am to continue in your employ I really do have to follow your rules. Second, I should not act hastily. I knew about your relationship with Betsy, so I should have been prepared when you punished her. I was educated by my father, so you must know that I do not have the conventional views on sexual behavior, or the usual ignorance, either. I promise not to interfere in the future."
She turned me around and kissed me full on my lips, the book dropping to the floor with a thud. I did not respond to the kiss with enthusiasm, but I did not display any revulsion, either. "I am glad this has turned out so well, Jenny. You have learned your lesson without forcing me to punish you harshly. Now let's hurry, I want to be in Paris tonight. Betsy will help you pack when she finishes with my luggage."
I half-turned away from her and held out my wrists as far as I could. "Excuse me, Lady Agnes, but I am still bound."
She laughed. "So you are. I had forgotten. Turn around, and I'll untie you."
She freed my hands without delay, but neither she nor I believed she had 'forgotten' they were tied. This was a test of some sort. I wondered if I had passed or failed.
* * *
We left the hotel and took a cab to the railway station, then a train to Dover, where we boarded the ferry for Calais. The weather was fine, with blue skies and warm temperatures, and the Channel was unusually calm. Neither Lady Agnes nor I were troubled by sea sickness, but Betsy felt a bit queasy and skipped luncheon. Once ashore in Calais we boarded a train for Paris and arrived there without incident. The Exposition Universelle had opened last month and was drawing crowds to the city, although the peak attendance would doubtless occur next month on Bastille Day, the hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution. I had reserved by telegraph a suite at the Grand Hôtel Terminus, a new hotel completed just a month earlier. Lady Agnes described the accommodations as 'adequate'.
Both Betsy and I begged Lady Agnes to stay an extra day in Paris so we could visit the Exposition. She was not an admirer of anything French, and she "deplored" the Revolution, but she acceded to our request. The Eiffel Tower served as the entrance arch to the Exposition, and it "towered" over the city. I wanted to climb to the top, but the public was only allowed up to the second level. Lady Agnes said this afforded the best view of Paris, because "From here you can't see the damned Tower". I concurred, and she and I were both glad the Tower would be dismantled at the conclusion of the Exposition.
Lady Agnes surprised me that evening. "Jenny, you have led a sheltered life, and I want to broaden your horizons. I have hired guides, and they will take us on a tour of the cabaret district in Montmartre. We absolutely need a male escort or we will be regarded as prostitutes."
I was not enthusiastic. "I rarely drink spirits, Lady Agnes. A tour of taverns doesn't hold much appeal for me."
"A cabaret is much more than a tavern, Jenny. They have musicians and performers of all sorts. It is really just a bawdy version of a music hall. I insist that you accompany me."
When she put it that way I could hardly refuse. In the hotel lobby we met our escort, two handsome young men named Jean and Louis, and our tour commenced. We had drinks in every cabaret, and I quickly became tipsy. Lady Agnes spoke no French, so her escort Jean had to talk to me. I was amused and flattered by the complements and indecent suggestions I received from the men, and I found I was greatly enjoying this excursion into the sensuous side of Parisian life. I had a brief moment of lucidity around midnight when I remembered that we were scheduled to travel to Germany in the morning, and with a great deal of effort I persuaded Lady Agnes that it was time to return to the hotel. In the lobby I paid and dismissed the two men, who were visibly surprised and disappointed that their services would not be required for the rest of the night.
We managed to find our suite. Lady Agnes was obviously more accustomed to alcohol than I was, but I had frequently and surreptitiously exchanged my almost-full glass for her almost-empty one, so our levels of intoxication were similar, in that both of us were drunk. That is the only reason I can give to explain what happened next. The exact details are hazy, but it started when Lady Agnes criticized the French Revolution, stating that most of the political problems in today's world grew from it.
I protested, "You cannot believe that, Lady Agnes. The Revolution was a great step forward for the rights of man and for self-government. Have you not read the works of Paine, Wilberforce, even Robespierre? That excesses were committed during the Terror is regrettable, but overall the world is now better off." I knew I was treading on dangerous ground, but here, in the free and revolutionary city of Paris, I lost my inhibitions. The drink helped with that too.
Lady Agnes disagreed violently. "Self government! The rule of the mob, you mean. Government must remain in the hands of those qualified by birth and breeding to exercise power. Any other way leads to ruin."
"On the contrary! The only legitimate government is one that derives its authority from the people, not only in Europe, but everywhere in the world! And not just men. Women have rights too, and someday even a woman's voice will be heard in the corridors of power!"
"You have just crossed the line between insolence and sedition. Such talk could destroy the British Empire! You think yourself safe here in Paris, as they would probably fete you across the city and grant you a state pension for such treasonous speech, but if I had the authority you would be imprisoned or hanged."
"You are an evil tyrant. It is fortunate that you do not have such power, for you are a living relict of the dark ages. Liberté, égalité, fraternité!"
"Well, I still have the power to punish my insolent servants! I was lenient with you before, now you need a harsher lesson! Betsy! Betsy! Come here at once! And bring the discipline bag."
By the time a tousled and drowsy Betsy emerged from the bedroom, Gladstone bag in hand, I had evaluated my actions and realized I had gone too far. It is one thing to have a political discussion with one's employer, quite another to insult her to her face. Once again I faced a choice: Submit to punishment or find myself out on the street. And now I was in a foreign country, without the money to return to England. I knew my continued resistance would lead to my dismissal, and that would provide me with a swift passage to the poor house or worse, a life on the streets. I was as much in servitude as anyone chained and transported to our former penal colonies.
I knew that I had clearly transgressed against Lady Agnes' arcane and strict rules, but this was the end of the 19th century, not the dark ages! Surely a society that had become enlightened enough to dispense with chattel slavery would find only revulsion in the thought of whipping servants without consequence. Yet I knew that Lady Agnes would say she was of the 'old school'; 'spare the rod and spoil the child' was most definitely her motto. I had seen her treatment of Betsy, but that was part of their sexual relationship. Surely she could not punish me as severely.
"I am very disappointed, Jennifer", Lady Agnes said coldly. "I had hoped that you would show more maturity and intelligence than a mere slip of a girl, but clearly I was mistaken. From now on, when we are alone or with Betsy, you will address me as 'Mistress', is that clear?"
It wasn't clear at all. But I was already on shaky ground, so I did as she said. "Yes … M-Mistress." I stammered and bobbed a curtsey, all pretence that I might be anything more than a servant now dispelled.
"Now ask me to punish you for your unacceptable behavior!"
I swallowed hard at this further humiliation, but curtseyed once more. No point in resisting now. "Please Mistress, I deserve to be punished and would be grateful to you if you will show me the errors of my ways".
"Very well. Take off your clothes, and be quick about it, girl!"
To remove my clothing at her command was humiliating, but I had gone too far to turn back. I took off my dress and Betsy unlaced my corset. I quickly stepped out of the petticoats and hardly hesitated even when I reached my final undergarments. Then I stood before her naked, the clothes so recently purchased piled up on a chair. On her signal, I held out my hands, palms together, and watched as Lady Agnes wrapped my wrists in white rope. She tied it tight and then wound the rope between my wrists, knotting it securely. She led me silently to the door and the ring just installed by Betsy, put the rope though it, and hoisted me up until only my toes touched the carpet.
I had never been corporally punished or even struck as a child, certainly not by my dear, gentle father, and my governesses were always the kindest souls. It seemed inconceivable that I was to be beaten in these circumstances, but there was now nothing to prevent it. Even now I could believe that Lady Agnes only intended to frighten me, and I would not actually be whipped. This belief became impossible to sustain when she filled my mouth with a thick cloth, the better to suppress the screams about to be wrung from me.
"I am most distressed that it has come to this, Jennifer. Your father was always such a good friend to me".
At the mention of my father the tears began to flow. Father, how could you have misjudged this martinet so badly that you delivered your daughter into her evil clutches? I could only hope he was now looking down on me and could offer some protection – he would certainly be my only comfort in the coming ordeal. The fear really first started to course through my veins when I heard the riding crop swish through the air.
"I gave Betsy ten strokes the other night, but your infraction is far more serious since you should have known better. I feel I must treat you harshly, so twenty will be your punishment."
Twenty? I nearly fainted. If I hadn't been tied to the door I would have collapsed. I heard the swish of the crop once more and this time it landed hard across my buttocks. My world exploded into pain, blotting out any other thought or feeling. I screamed so hard that the cloth gag could not possibly contain the sound and it must have been heard throughout the building. With a grunt of irritation Lady Agnes forced more cloth into my mouth and tied a thick bandana across the lower portion of my face to keep the gag in place and to further muffle my cries.
I put as much force into my screams as the second and third blows rained down on me, but Lady Agnes seemed satisfied that the sound was adequately contained. I shed tears as never before, trying but singularly failing to block out the awfulness of the events befalling me. Each stroke of the crop somehow contrived to be more painful than the last.
At some point it seemed Lady Agnes had covered every inch of my buttocks and now the blows began to revisit the original sites of unimaginable torture, thus doubling my torment. I had long since lost count of the strokes and had no concept of when, or even if, the torture would end. I prayed that I would die before it continued, then I prayed for forgiveness of whatever sins had led me to this terrible fate.
I only knew she had finished when the rope was released from the doorknob and I slid helplessly to the floor. Then I saw Betsy's tear-stained face above me and she was helping me to my feet, so she could lead me out and tend to my wounds. As I left, I glanced back at Lady Agnes. She was red in the face and breathing hard as she packed away that instrument of my misery, but I could see the light burning bright in her eye and knew that, however much she protested that she had just carried out an unpleasant duty, she had actually taken intense pleasure from this terrible event.
Betsy helped me into my bedroom and onto my bed. She untied my hands as I lay there face down, moaning with pain. Betsy whispered, "I've got some lotion, Miss Jennifer. It'll numb the pain." I felt a cold liquid on my inflamed bottom, and then Betsy's hands started to stroke gently. The lotion was effective, for the fiery pain was eased to a dull ache.
"Oh, Betsy," I whispered. "Please don't cry for me."
"If I don't, Miss Jennifer, then who will?"
Her compassion forced a smile from me. "How do you bear such mistreatment? You must be beaten often."
"Mistress only punishes me when I deserve it," she said seriously, "and from what little I overheard, you deserved all you received, harsh though it was."
I gave myself a wry smile and had to agree. "I did say some insulting things. But she actually enjoyed torturing me!"
"Each of us is bound by our nature, Miss," she said primly.
"Thank you, Betsy," I whispered as she continued to smooth the gentle unguent into my wounds. "That feels much better now. And please, call me Jenny."
"Then I can make you feel even better, Jenny. Roll over on your back."
She took hold of my hip and shoulder and rolled me onto my back, positioning a pillow at the small of my back to keep the pressure from my wounds. She blew out the candle and we were plunged into blackness. As she lifted my knees up and slightly parted them, my senses seemed heightened as I felt her fingertips move gradually down the inside of my thighs. I had no idea of what she planned to do, but my ignorance was quickly dispelled when I felt her fingers probing my pubic hair. "No! Stop!" I protested. "I don't want to do this."
"You don't know what I'm offering, Jenny. Just lie back and let me show you."
The girl was barely eighteen years of age, yet she did show me. Nothing in my early life had prepared me for the sensations now assaulting my body. Merely through the skilled application of her fingers and tongue to the most sensitive areas of my naked body she had me quivering like a jelly and whimpering helplessly. It was a forbidden subject, outlawed by the bible, but I knew that what I was feeling was the almost unbearable heights of sexual arousal. This continued until I felt a wave of pleasure that left me limp and spent.
Suddenly Betsy straddled me and I found a thigh pressing gently against each of my cheeks, my lips mere inches from her most intimate area. I smelt her body odor, a perfume familiar from my own body, though I had never before understood the cause.
"Please kiss me, Miss Jennifer." It came out as a high pitched whisper, belying the urgency and desperation expressed. I had assumed that the obviously close relationship between Lady Agnes and Betsy was just another aspect of the control exercised by the older woman over the younger, but as we lay together in the darkness of the bedroom I began to revise that opinion. Whether deprived of love during her childhood or desperate for some tenderness in her difficult life I didn't know, but the thought that she might just prefer the charms of women to men startled me.
I was in no position to enter a dialogue and, tentatively, I reached out my tongue and touched the wiry hair on her private area. "Oh, thank you, Miss Jennifer!" she exclaimed, as if I had merely given her a lollipop.
I actually found the taste pleasant, if a little outré, and felt encouraged to delve a little deeper. As I pushed through the hair to the skin below, Betsy let out another squeal. "Oh thank you, Miss!" she exclaimed again.
As she leaned down onto my body, I felt her nipples brush against my stomach and then her tongue split my nether lips and found the center of pleasure for any woman, which I did not know at the time but now understand to be the 'clitoris'. Whether by design or accident, Betsy had lowered her hips to such an extent that the scream of pleasure I let out as she closed her lips around it and sucked was almost completely stifled.
We continued in this manner for some time, Betsy guiding me as I learned how to pleasure a woman, me trying to keep up with her instructions as well as her example. Frequent repetitions of "Oh thank you, Miss!" encouraged me until finally she experienced the same rapture as had engulfed me. At last we fell asleep in each others arms.
Morning was painful in more ways than one. My bottom ached, my head ached, and I had a raging thirst. As I dressed I pondered the question of my relationship with Lady Agnes. I was still as dependent on her as before, but I could not face a life of pain and constant humiliation. I must prepare to go my own way if she could not treat me with respect.
Lady Agnes was in the sitting room and greeted me as I entered. "Good morning, Jenny. How are you this morning?"
"I've felt better, Lady... Mistress."
"No, no, call me Lady Agnes. We are not lovers, nor are you my slave. I was wrong to treat you so harshly last night, and I regret it. Let us pretend that everything that happened was just a drunken dream, and never speak of it again. Is that agreeable to you?"
"Yes, Lady Agnes. I too regret what happened last night." Although not everything that happened …
Lady Agnes smiled. "Good. Then we can go on as before. On to Berlin!"
* * *
We booked sleeping compartments so we could travel from Paris to Berlin without leaving the train. After our arrival in Berlin Lady Agnes visited the British Embassy at her first opportunity, and the Ambassador agreed to request an audience with the Kaiser for her, although he could not estimate when, or if, this would occur. She decided to make Berlin the center of her activities until she either had the audience or it was refused, and not move on to southern Germany and Bavaria until then.
We spent the next few days seeing the sights in Berlin, and then we ventured further afield, with a trip to Dresden. The city's baroque and rococo city center has made it known as the 'Jewel Box', and I enjoyed seeing it. On the way back to the hotel Lady Agnes was looking out of the window of the carriage when she suddenly ordered the driver to stop. She pointed to a large poster outside a theater and exclaimed, "The Great Marvolo is appearing there tonight. We must see the performance. Jenny, buy two tickets."
I dutifully purchased the tickets and we returned to the hotel. Later that evening we arrived at the theater just as the doors were opening and got seats close to the stage. There were other acts, but neither of us paid much attention to them. Finally Marvolo appeared. His performance was as I remembered it, and when he asked for volunteers from the audience Lady Agnes insisted that I raise my hand. I hoped I would not be chosen, for I was nervous about appearing on a stage before so many people, but no such luck. The first person Marvolo selected was 'the young lady with the red hair', and I reluctantly climbed onto the stage.
Even with my close-up view I was unable to detect any trickery. Bella (the same assistant as before) was actually bound securely to the post and I didn't know how she escaped. During the 'underwater escape' part of the act I examined the chain and the locks very closely, but I could not detect any tampering, and it was a common nail that I put into Bella's hand. While Bella was actually in the cabinet I had to move to the side of the stage and the reflections on the glass restricted my view of her, so I saw no more than I did when I was in the audience in London.
After the curtain fell Marvolo thanked the volunteers. As I started to leave the stage he stopped me. "Excuse me, fraulein, may I have a word with you?" he asked in German.
"If it is not more than that. I must rejoin my companion," I replied in the same language.
"Ah, what a charming accent. You are not German."
"That's right, I'm English. Sorry, but I must go now."
"Then I will make this brief. Bella is returning to her home in Italy and I need another assistant. Would you be interested in the position?"
"Absolutely not!" I was insulted that he should ask, as I would never give up my reputation by appearing on the stage, but I didn't mention it because as a foreigner he may have made this improper advance out of ignorance. I pushed past him and left the stage, and he did not hinder me.
The next day we traveled west, to Chemnitz and then to Gorhalt, the capital city of the Duchy of Gorhalt. This was not a large city, but it had an unusual Gothic cathedral that Lady Agnes was especially interested in.
As we were finishing our evening meal in the dining room of our small hotel I asked Lady Agnes, "What is the status of a small, formerly independent Duchy such as this now that it is part of the German Empire?" I spoke in German, as I did not wish to mark us as foreigners.
She replied, "Now it is nothing more than an administrative department of the Empire, Jenny." She too spoke in German.
A voice interrupted, "That is not quite correct, madam. The Duchy still has quite a lot of autonomy. For example, we maintain our own local laws and are responsible for the administration of justice in the Duchy."
I looked up and was astonished to see that the speaker was Marvolo! "What are you doing here?" I exclaimed.
"This is my native city. Permit me to introduce myself. I am Maximillian von Gorhalt, when I am not on the stage."
Lady Agnes asked, "Von Gorhalt? Are you related to the Duke?"
"He is my uncle. Alas, I am the, how do you say, 'black sheep' of the family, and my uncle does not approve of me. May I join you?" Lady Agnes nodded and Marvolo sat down. "May I ask your names, ladies?"
"I am Lady Agnes Dalrimple and this is my companion, Miss Jennifer Harrison."
"Lady Agnes is the daughter of a duke," I added. I didn't know if he understood that 'lady' was a title, and I wanted him to know she was as aristocratic as he was.
"Honored to make your acquaintance, ladies. Of course I remember Miss Harrison, and I now recall you were at a performance in London, Lady Agnes."
"Your memory is correct, sir. We both greatly enjoyed your performances. Where will you appear next?"
"Nowhere, unfortunately. Bella has quit the act and I have not yet found a replacement for her. Unless you have reconsidered my offer, Miss Harrison."
I laughed. "Of course not. I don't wish to appear on the stage. Merely being a volunteer in Dresden was difficult enough for me."
Lady Agnes asked a question about the cathedral, and Max (as he requested we call him) answered knowledgeably. He ordered a bottle of wine, and the deference the waiter paid to him removed any doubts that he was the ruling Duke's nephew. Then the conversation shifted to German politics, and possible changes the new Kaiser might make in German foreign policy. Most of this was over my head, and I wasn't interested anyway, so my attention drifted off. I made a point of not partaking of the wine, having experienced its painful consequences in Paris. Indeed, I resolved that I would pass muster as a member of the Temperance Society.
The next day was a busy one. Max called for us shortly after breakfast and guided us on a tour of the Duchy. At his suggestion Betsy attended us, so it was a pleasant outing for her too. We did not return to the hotel until the late afternoon. Max left us there, but we agreed that he would join us later and escort us to dinner. "But not at the Schloss," he warned. "My uncle does not want to see me there."
As we crossed the lobby the clerk called to me. "Fraulein Harrison! A message for you."
"For me? That's strange. Who would send me a message?" The message, hand-printed on cheap paper, said that a letter for me was at the post office. "This is even stranger. Nobody knows I'm here."
Lady Agnes said, "I left my itinerary with the Embassy so they could notify me of any news about my audience with the Kaiser, and they know you are with me. Perhaps this is a letter from England they forwarded. But enough of this speculation. Go and fetch your letter."
I laughed. "That is the simplest answer. If you will excuse me, I'll do it right now."
But at the post office the mystery only deepened. They had no letter for me and had never had one. Shrugging, I returned to the hotel.
I had just finished dressing for dinner when Betsy pounded on my door. "Miss Jennifer! Come quick! Lady Agnes needs you."
I hurried to her room. Lady Agnes was holding her jewel box. As I entered she exclaimed, "My jewels are missing!"
"Are you sure? Maybe they fell into your suitcase."
"No, I've looked. They are not in this room. I put them away carefully last night, and now they're gone."
"Then they were stolen. I'll tell the hotel manager, and he can contact the police." I hurried down to the manager's office, just off the lobby, and reported the crime. He was shocked, protesting repeatedly that such a thing could never have happened here, but I finally got him to send for the police.
While I was waiting in the lobby for the police to appear Max arrived. "Hello, Miss Harrison. Is Lady Agnes ready? My carriage is outside."
"I'm afraid there has been some trouble, sir. Lady Agnes' jewels are missing, almost certainly stolen. The manager has sent for the police."
"That's terrible! I'll go to her at once. Bring the police to her room as soon as they arrive." He hurried up the stairs.
A few minutes later a policeman arrived, a large man in a dark gray uniform wearing a strange-looking hat. I guided him to Lady Agnes' room, and when he saw Max there he stiffened to attention, clicked his heels, and saluted. Max acknowledged the salute with a nod. He asked, "Do you know why you're here?
"Yes, my lord. The manager informed me that some jewels have been stolen." The policeman took a notebook from his pocket and laboriously wrote down our names, when the jewels had been seen last (last night), when they were missed (just a few minutes ago), and a detailed description of the jewels.
Lady Agnes asked, "What happens next?"
"I will refer this matter to the Investigation Bureau, madam. We will circulate the description of the stolen property to the jewelers and pawnshops and question the usual suspects. Most of this will be done in the morning. I must ask you and your servants to remain in the hotel until the Inspector says you can leave."
Max interrupted, "Nothing more will happen tonight. We can still go out to dinner. Is there any problem with that?"
"No sir. As long as everyone is here in the morning." He bowed, clicked his heels again, and backed out of the room.
"Then let us dine and try to forget this unpleasantness for now, Lady Agnes. This was probably the work of some petty thief. The police are very efficient, and there is an excellent chance that your jewels will be recovered."
"I hope that is true, Max. The jewels are not especially valuable, worth less than a thousand pounds, but they have great sentimental value and I would regret losing them."
The restaurant where Max took us to dinner was elegant and the food was excellent, but it was wasted on us. Lady Agnes was very upset and I mirrored her feelings. The conversation that night was of the poorest quality, almost entirely carried by Max's gallant efforts to amuse us. Neither Lady Agnes nor I were able to respond beyond monosyllables, or even listen to the facts and questions with which he sought to distract us. The evening ended early, and when we returned to the hotel both of us were in a glum mood.
The next morning after breakfast we were gathered in Lady Agnes' room when there was a knock on the door. I answered it, and a uniformed policeman and a man in a gray suit were in the corridor. He said, "Good morning, I am Inspector Braun. Is this Lady Agnes Dalrimple's room?"
The Inspector spoke in English, but his accent was poor, so I replied in German. "Yes, Inspector, come in. I'm Jennifer Harrison, Lady Agnes' companion. We've been expecting you."
He and the policeman entered the room and I introduced him to Lady Agnes and Betsy. He said, "The usual procedure in these matters is to question those closest to the scene of the crime and take their statements. I have the use of the room across the corridor. Please accompany me there, Lady Agnes."
Lady Agnes was only gone a few minutes and then it was my turn. I entered the room and the Inspector closed the door. He pointed to a straight-backed chair facing a small table. "Please sit there, Miss Harrison." I did so, and he sat in a chair on the opposite side of the table and extracted a notebook from his coat pocket.
"I understand you are Lady Agnes' companion, Miss Harrison. How long have you been in her service?"
"Just a few weeks. She engaged me during the first week of June."
"You do not share her room?"
"No, Inspector. We usually take a suite, but none are available in this hotel, so I have the room next to hers."
"Did you ever enter her room when she was not there?"
"No, I've never been in her room alone."
He stood up. "Thank you, Miss Harrison. That will be all for now."
We returned to Lady Agnes' room and the Inspector took Betsy across the hall. They were gone for some time, and when they returned Betsy was in tears. I suppose she was a prime suspect, since she was often alone in Lady Agnes' room, and the Inspector must have bullied her.
There was a knock on the door, and the Inspector answered it. Another policeman was outside and he whispered something to the Inspector, who left the room, closing the door behind him.
In about ten minutes they returned. "I have good news, Lady Agnes. We have recovered your jewels."
"That's quick work, Inspector. Where were they?"
"They were sold to a pawnbroker. He saw the description we circulated and notified us." The Inspector turned to me. "Is that your room next door, Miss Harrison?"
"Yes, it is."
He displayed a stack of German banknotes. "Is this your money?"
"No, I've never seen it before."
"Then how do you explain its presence behind the lining of your suitcase?"
"What? That's impossible!"
The Inspector shook his head. "You have been very clumsy. Both the pawnbroker and his assistant described the person who sold them the jewels as a red-haired young woman with an English accent, and you perfectly match that description. And as far as I know, you are the only red-haired Englishwoman in the city. You are under arrest."
End of part 1
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