by Susan Thomas
What a house it was! Nooks and chimneys, brick, wood and tile, rambling up and along, part Stuart, bits of the eighteenth century, bits of the nineteenth century, a house to love and cherish, and it was all hers. Yes it was all her house. Only twenty three years old and the proud owner of a house to die for. No money mind, no dosh, no spondulas, no ackers, shekels, shillings, groats and a credit limit of just a couple of grand. But who cares when they own a house like that.
Grandmother had left the house to her only grandchild. Her children didn't need the money, they were all smug, self-satisfied and successful, pompous, opinionated and overbearing. She certainly wasn't going to leave her house to that lot, but Sally was a lovely girl, head screwed firmly on and very loving. She had known that Sally had no money, but she trusted the girl would find a way to keep the house going for Sally loved the house as well as her grandmother.
One caveat though, one warning was carefully written down in her neat, beautifully precise script, written in violet ink with the fountain pen her father had given her so many years ago. It read, "Sally, I really cannot explain my reasons, but I place a stricture on your ownership of the house. Under no circumstances must you sleep on the bed in the Blue Room."
The Blue Room was in the oldest part of the house; it was large with a subtly sloping floor and polished oak floorboards far wider than anything modern would possess. The walls were the original and painted in the most gentle of egg-blue. The small latticed window was only a short distance above the ground because the room below was partly set into the rising ground. It was a beautiful room, a room that took the breath away, a room to linger in, inviting vases of flowers, open windows and the buzzing of bees on a summer day.
Against one wall and facing the window was a huge bed. It was an oak four-poster with an enclosed roof to it with blue grey curtains and a pelmet for the three sides. The backboard went right up to the roof of the bed, and was richly carved as were the front posts. The whole thing spoke of history: of deflowering and affairs; of deaths and births; whispered secrets and servants eavesdropping; conspiracies and kings. In short, it was a bed inextricably linked to the house for there was no way it could ever leave through the small window or even the door. It must have been made for, and in, this very room, or at least its final assembly stages.
Sally was utterly bewildered by this stricture, and at a loss as to why there should be a ban on sleeping in such a wonderful bed. Perhaps it was due to her arthritis, maybe her grandmother associated the bed with her painful back and hips, but Sally was young, arthritis free, and she decided with all the impetuousness of youth to sleep in that very bed on her very first night in the house. No, never mind her lack of finances, not to worry about how she would maintain a listed building, put out of mind the utility bills and all such mundane cares, she would enjoy the sheer indulgence of sleeping in an antique four-poster in her own house.
Her grandmother had many clothes of course. Some were beyond anything other than the recycle bin; some were quaint and of such vintage, and destined for eBay; some, especially the children's wear, were family heirlooms and these were in a cedar wood chest layered between tissue paper. In amongst the children's wear were some Victorian nightdresses. As a child she had handled them, and marvelled that ladies wore such long and beautiful gowns just to go to bed.
On impulse, Sally opened the chest and swiftly found one such nightdress. It was white and so long it would reach to within an inch or two of her ankles. It had a turned down, round, frilly collar and a frilly buttoned front that reached right down to the navel with long sleeves, each with a frilly cuff. Sally could imagine a Victorian husband slowly unbuttoning his wife's nightdress to expose her breasts before enjoying his conjugal rights; it set her imagination on fire.
Bedtime: no lights but a candle; no shower but a bath. The night was February cold so she had lit a fire in the bedroom - bed with a candle and a fire in a Victorian nightdress. Such romance, Sally was thrilled, and surprisingly fell asleep quickly.
When she awoke, the fire had reduced to glowing ashes which cast a warm glow around the room, making all seem cosy. The candle had gone out, but with a moon gleaming through gaps in the thick brocaded curtains and the fire's glow, there was quite sufficient light to see the man.
She felt no alarm, the house was locked up and the downstairs alarm on. He was dressed in no modern garb, it was clearly a dream, and she relaxed and went with this strangeness. He was tall and middle-aged with a stern but not frightening face. His hair was swept back from his forehead and was clearly greased with something; there was a rich full moustache. It was his dress that told her it was a dream - he was wearing a long black coat that went down past his ankles, small buttons ran from his neck right down to his midriff, and something resembling a white clerical collar was around his neck, but it had extra wings that stretched down for an extra two or three inches. His hands were behind his back and Sally dreamily thought he must be carrying something.
"Child, you have sinned, the truth now girl, no holding back."
She knew this was a dream, and dreams don't count, do they? No harm done to be truthful. Whatever her grandmother thought, she had been a bit wild at times, especially at university. She'd managed to keep it from her family, yes indeed! Very good she had been at keeping her pure image but the reality was very different: naughty; wild; accepted no boundaries; drugs; drink; sex of all types, some nights she would rather not remember now, no not now, but all that was behind her, in the past, but still there. A dream though is different, perhaps she needed to let it all out, cleanse her soul. She had already changed her life, and now with the house she was respectable again so what harm in saying in her dream that she had been bad, let it all out.
"Yes," she whispered, "I have."
"Kneel, sinful girl, kneel here and confess."
Sally got out of bed with sheer relief at the possibility of unburdening herself of the many things she had felt deeply uncomfortable about, deeds she hadn't wanted her grandmother to know. She knelt at the end of the bed as instructed, her long nightgown making her feel comfortable with its modesty. Childhood memories of being instructed to put her hands together and point her fingers to heaven came back until she looked like a Victorian woman at prayer at the foot of the magnificent bed.
She knelt and even closed her eyes before stammering out her various sins: there was drunkenness, fornication, drug taking, lying, cheating at exams, and even, if only briefly, an affair with a married man.
"Child, you will need punishment before forgiveness can take effect."
She felt calm, this man was clearly some sort of Victorian clergyman created in her mind by the setting and mixed up with her guilt. No dream punishment can really be a problem so she simply agreed.
Sally stood when he told her, and was now facing the foot of the bed, staring along its length to the magnificent backboard behind her pillows. She stood as he imagined a Victorian woman would stand, with her back straight and her arms by her sides. He came and stood near to her so that by turning her head a little she could see him.
"You must be whipped child, and when I have whipped you thoroughly, you will be free from the burden of your sins."
He produced from behind his back a birch rod, perhaps three feet long but maybe a little less, a good dozen or so birch switches bound together. Sally was puzzled, why should she dream about birches? She knew what a birch was from her A Level History class, where the students had sneered at the barbarism of the past, now though, in her dream, it seemed natural.
"Child, you must raise your nightdress, and hold it around your body. Do not fear for your modesty, I am a clergyman, and in this holy position am your spiritual adviser."
Sally was not overly modest, and it was after all a dream if one of the oddest she could ever recall. Clearly, she had major guilt issues, so she gathered the long nightdress in her hands, pulling it up around her until it was bunched around her tummy, leaving her naked below the waist.
"You are a good obedient girl. The whipping I shall give you may make you scream, but delight in the chastising power of the rod for it is by these means your faults may be cured."
He ordered her to stretch herself over the bed, and keeping her feet on the floor she lay down on the bed with her nightdress bunched around her middle, and stretched out her arms on either side forming a cross. She could not have told you why she did this, it seemed to be all part of her dream.
She lay there dreamily with no fear and no anxiety; it was after all a dream which showed simply how guilty she felt at all she had done, and the deceptions she had foisted on her grandmother. All that changed in a flash as there was a blow across her bottom which ignited a fire. It stung, it burnt, and she screamed out with the fiery shock of it.
"Stay in place child." It was the stern, deep voice of the clergyman. "I shall only give you twelve. but if you are not brave then it may have to be more."
She had never had a dream where she felt pain before, but she stayed in place, her arms outstretched, her hands digging into the bed clothes. The birch rod once again exploded on her behind, and she screamed again.
"Child, it is only by strict discipline and the rod that you will be free of your bad habits."
Another biting stroke broke against her bottom. Sally's feet began to drum against the floor as stroke after stroke exponentially increased her pain. She wondered about her mind that such a vivid dream was possible. When the last of the twelve strokes had been given, she had large handfuls of bedding in each tight hand, and tears wet the bed cover, her bottom on fire from her whipping.
"Child, had you been a boy I should have given more, but you are of the weaker sex and twelve is adequate. You may arise now."
Sally stood shakily, and as her nightdress dropped back into place it brushed against her chastised skin, and caused her to gasp.
"You may go back to bed now."
Sally climbed slowly and painfully back into bed, and curled up on her side pulling the covers only over her shoulder. She wasn't sure whether it was sleep or the end of her dream but it came rapidly.
Sunlight shining through the gaps in the curtains and the singing of the birds woke her. For a moment or two all she felt was relief that her strange dream was over and she was awake, then she moved.
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