Laundry Tales 05: Haunted Shawlbyjeanne_d_artois©
Copyright jeanne_d_artois September 2008
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
The main attraction of the former laundry room, which is my workroom as a potter, is Martha, the resident ghost. As a child I would sit on the scrubbed table and ask Martha to tell me a story. She always did. When I became an adult, she told me about incidents in the lives of people at the Hall. Each time I became a participant in the story and experienced the events exactly as that person had. This is related to, but not part of, the series of those adult stories.
In a suitcase on top of my wardrobe I have some souvenirs of the ancestral home, mainly items of clothing that are not suitable for display in the areas shown to the public, not of historic interest but selected by me just because I like them. They are wrapped in tissue paper.
Martha had given me obscure messages about some of the items as asides in her story-telling. She seemed genuinely concerned about me keeping them in my house. If she had been clearer about what I shouldn't touch and why I might have understood. As it was I just had a vague disquiet about handling some of the clothing.
The various patterns and designs on some the clothing had occasionally inspired decoration on my pottery. That morning I had taken the suitcase from the wardrobe and had spread some items across my bed. I selected a couple of pieces and took them to my workroom. In the evening I took the clothes back upstairs. I started to pack the suitcase again. I had nearly finished when a silken edge protruding from a tissue wrapped parcel caressed my hand. I put that large parcel down for re-wrapping and forgot it until I had successfully struggled to put the closed suitcase back on the wardrobe.
I swore under my breath when I saw that I had left the parcel on my bed. I wasn't going to take the suitcase down again tonight. At least I could wrap the loose item properly before going to bed.
It was a raw and windy Halloween evening. I hadn't remembered that it was Halloween until I was almost ready for bed. No one would call on me this far from the village so I didn't have to consider trick or treaters. I struggled through the massed material of my high-necked and long sleeved copy of a Victorian night-dress. It was warm from the electric blanket that I needed because the heating system didn't really have much impact on my bedroom.
All I needed to do was wrap that parcel, turn out the light, and climb into bed. I lifted the tissue paper to reveal a heavy silk shawl folded into a neat square that had slipped on one edge. I started to refold it. A couple of matching square scarves dropped out followed by two long scarves.
I was really annoyed. Instead of one thing to wrap I now had five to fold and pack away. I put the scarves on my pillow and spread the shawl across the bed. It was so large that it covered my bed completely. It had a paisley pattern on a dark maroon ground that shone in the light. I stroked it and marvelled at the richness of the colours after all these years.
The lights went out. I felt my way to the window and peered out in the direction of the village. No lights were showing so it must be another of our local power-cuts.
I swore, aloud this time. There was no one around to hear me. I didn't mind losing the lights. Without my electric under-blanket I would be cold unless I put more layers on the bed and those layers were in a cupboard in the attic room. Unless...
...I spread the shawl over the bed. I climbed in and snuggled down. I felt one of the scarf squares under my head. I wrapped it over my hair, crossed it over my chin and tied it at the nape of my neck. I pulled its edges close together so that everything except my nose and eyes were covered. I went to sleep quickly but I soon began to dream just as if I was experiencing one of Martha's stories.
I awoke in one of the bedrooms in our ancestral home. Even though the heavy curtains were still across the windows I could tell that this wasn't that room today. The remains of a coal fire were glowing faintly in the fireplace. I swung my legs to the floor.
As soon as I stood up I knew I wasn't me, but that I was experiencing someone else's life, as I frequently did when Martha was telling me one of her stories. I had a frisson of fear. Martha only told me stories that had happy endings. I knew there were other stories about our house that were unpleasant. Without Martha's careful selection I might be about to experience one of the unhappy stories.
I, as whoever I was, was much shorter, slimmer and lighter than my real self. I looked at my hands protruding from the light cotton night-dress's sleeves. I was much younger too. These slim dainty hands had not been coarsened by age and the hard use of being a working potter. I rather liked these hands. I stroked my cheek with my soft-tipped fingers.
The door opened quietly and a maid peeped in. Once she had seen that I was out of bed she entered the room, shutting the door. She was wearing a sackcloth apron and carrying a bucket of coal.
"Miss Rebecca," she said softly, "You shouldn't be awake this early. I suppose it's the anticipation of your birthday party. Just let me tend to the fire, then I'll bring the hot water..."
So my name is Rebecca and it is my birthday...
Of course it is. With my name I seemed to know everything about myself. Today is my twenty-first birthday and possibly the day we announce my engagement to my distant cousin Ralph. I'm not sure he's actually a cousin. I know that we are related because Great-Aunt Hannah, the Dowager Duchess, told me we were, but his father isn't an uncle. I think that our great-grandfathers might have been cousins.
The maid's name is Jane, Jane Smith. She is engaged to one of our tenant farmer's sons, Albert Lorimer. She is a couple of years older than I am but for the last year has been my friend as well as one of the family's maids. She has covered up some of my mild indiscretions. I have helped her with her relationship with Albert for example by sending her on errands that just happened to pass his father's farm.
I seem to be two people. I am Rebecca on the morning of her twenty-first birthday and also myself the twenty-first Century self-employed potter experiencing Rebecca's life. As the potter I am scrabbling about in my memory for something I'm sure I remember about Jane Lorimer née Smith. I know I've seen the name somewhere. I know that Jane did marry Albert Lorimer but why should I know that fact from nearly two hundred years ago?
Never mind. I'll just sit on the edge of this soft deep bed swinging my slim legs while Jane stokes the fire and removes the ash. Soon she'll get the hot water for my morning ablutions...
I blush. As Rebecca I've remembered something else. Jane and I enjoy exploring each other's bodies. The morning ablutions mean that we wash each other -- everywhere. We stroke, hug, kiss, nibble...
I'm getting excited about the next few minutes. I'd rip off this night-dress except that the room is still chilly. The fire will soon be burning brightly and when Jane returns it will be warm enough for the morning's playtime.
I've remembered something else. My birthday party this evening will be a quiet family event because we're still in mourning for my father who died nearly a year ago. Next month we will have a ball to celebrate my twenty-first and I'll be able to wear something other than black. Even the ball won't be like the ball we had when my elder sister Ruth was twenty-one two years ago. For some reason the family hasn't got as much money as we had then. I don't really understand it. Mother has said something about agricultural depression and reduced rent income. She also mentioned taxes.
Jane left the room as quietly as she entered. Soon she'll be back with the hot water and we'll both get heated. I'm sure Great-Aunt Hannah suspects that there is something between Jane and I. She has hinted that I shouldn't be so friendly with a servant and that it will be a good thing when Jane gets married and leaves us.
Jane returned with a ewer of hot water and we began the morning ritual washing of Rebecca. Jane lathered me all over, paying special attention to my breasts and between my legs. As she rinsed my body with a wet flannel my nipples were erect and I felt a warm glow between my legs. Jane knelt before me to lick my breasts dry. I grabbed her head to direct her tongue to the places that aroused me most before she slid down my body to tongue me in the most intimate place. Her fingers eased themselves in to caress me further.
Neither of us heard or saw Great-Aunt Hannah as she quietly entered the room, watched us for a few minutes, and then left just as silently. I knew about it later that day.
Great-Aunt Hannah was not pleased with me. After a tongue-lashing I won't forget in a hurry she continued:
"At least you should have made sure the door was locked or bolted. I saw you. Any of the servants could have seen what I saw. A lady must be discreet if she wants to preserve her reputation and you, Rebecca, were dangerously careless. You realise that Jane will have to leave?"
I did. I knew that there were rumours about my relationship with Jane but until now, no one had any proof. I nodded my bent head.
"Very well. It isn't her fault. It's yours. I'll arrange for her to go to the Dower House until her marriage which should be as soon as possible. You must not go to the Dower House nor attempt to contact Jane. Understood?"
"Yes, Great Aunt."
"I will find another maid for you. Try to keep your hands off Jane's replacement at least until you are married. When you are mistress of your own establishment you can do as you wish but you would be well advised to keep your husband in ignorance of such things. We women are not supposed to have desires that do not involve men. We do, but we must be very careful about indulging them. You may go. Ask Jane to come to see me now."
Jane told me later that Great-Aunt Hannah was very gentle with her. She said that it was my fault that needed to be punished, not hers.
I thought that my birthday had already proved to be a memorable day, if for the wrong reason, and that all that would happen was the quiet celebration in the evening. I was wrong.
In the early afternoon a large carriage arrived drawn by a matched set of four splendid horses. I didn't know that any of our friends or relations owned such an expensive conveyance. I went downstairs to see who had arrived in such style. I was startled to learn that it was my father's youngest brother, Henry, who had been banished to India twenty years ago for youthful indiscretions. He was rarely spoken of in the family although Papa, shortly before his death had regretted that he would never see Henry again.
Now Henry was back and, if his mode of transport was any guide, no longer the impecunious black sheep.
He joined us at my birthday dinner. He seemed unnaturally dark-skinned presumably from exposure to the hot Indian sun and much more exotic than any of my other male relations. He startled me by producing the shawl and scarves as an immediate present and announcing that he would also give me a useful present for my twenty-first birthday. Mother looked happier than she had done since my father died. When we ladies retired, leaving the gentlemen to their port, I found out why.
Uncle Henry had given her a large sum of money invested in the Funds, whatever they are, enough for the family's money worries to be ended. He had provided me with a dowry of twenty thousand pounds. Mother said that I would now have to beware of fortune hunters because few young ladies of twenty-one had such a dowry. Ralph, my still unofficial fiancé, was reasonably wealthy, but even he would be startled by such a sum.
Uncle Henry was now the de facto head of our family and Ralph would have to ask his permission before we could get engaged. Mother hoped that Uncle Henry wouldn't refuse because Papa had already indicated that Ralph was an acceptable suitor, but there was no accounting for men...
Mother thought that the shawl was beautiful but should be reserved for special occasions such as the forthcoming ball. I agreed. It was too fine for daily wear. That night as I undressed with the inexpert help of one of the chambermaids I decided to add the shawl to the drawer containing my trousseau.
The next morning without Jane's ministrations I felt deprived. I had been enjoying our morning exercises so much. Despite Uncle Henry's impact on the household the waiting for the ball seemed endless. By the time it arrived I had a new maid, Abigail, normally known as Abbie. Abbie had been employed at Sir James Morris' bachelor establishment to help any female visitors. After a couple of weeks she told me that she and some of the other servants had been discharged because Sir James was in financial difficulty. She told me that a couple of Sir James' male servants had also joined our household. I was sorry to hear about Sir James' difficulties. Sir James, although too old for me -- he is at least thirty-five! -- had been an eligible bachelor in the district. He dances well and I had danced with him a couple of times.
The ball? Although I enjoyed it and Ralph announced our engagement it was like so many other balls I had attended. As the principal I had to be on my best behaviour. I had danced with almost all the male guests, including Sir James. I had been scrupulously polite to everyone including all the local gossips. I felt flat as Abbie undressed me for bed. She handed me my evening posset. It tasted odd. Abbie suggested that it might be because I had drunk so much champagne that night. She said she would stay with me until I went to sleep, just to make sure that I wasn't ill from the unaccustomed alcohol.
She sat down in a chair by the fire and started some needlework by the light of the candelabrum. She seemed to be doing some repairs to a pair of my long lace trimmed pantaloons. I thought what she was doing was odd but it wasn't as odd as I felt. I seemed to be floating and my body wasn't responding when I wanted to move.
Abbie stood up bringing the candelabrum with her. I couldn't shut my eyes against the brightness of the light.
"It's worked," she said sadly. Then she addressed me directly.
"I'm sorry, Miss Rebecca, for what I must do now. I'll be well paid by Sir James but I wish I didn't have to do it. If I don't he'll evict my father from his farm and my family will starve. I'll try to protect you but I can only go so far without angering Sir James. Now..."
She stripped the bed clothes off me and then peeled my night-dress over my head. I couldn't resist as she pushed and pulled me about. She pushed the pantaloons up my legs and tied them at the waist. I could feel what she had done while sewing. My pantaloons are normally two tubes attached to the waistband leaving my nether regions bare. Now they were sewn like trousers covering my private parts.
Abbie rolled me face down to fit and lace my corset. She took her needle and thread and sewed the waistband of my pantaloons to the corset. She rolled me face up and wriggled me into my shift. She sewed the shift to the corset, the pantaloons to the shift, pulled the shift between my legs and sewed the front and back of the shift together working from the top of my legs downwards. She finished by sewing the hems above the lace on the legs of my pantaloons together. Even if I had use of my muscles my legs were now hobbled together.
Abbie left me for a few seconds while she took one of my outdoor dresses from the wardrobe. I felt like a ship tossing in a gale as she pulled and pushed me around to get that dress on me. Before she forced my arms down the sleeves she put elbow length gloves on my hands. She must have been busy. The fingers and thumbs of those gloves were sewn together. Once my gloved hands were in the sleeves she tacked them firmly to the side seams of my bodice before burying my hands in folds of the skirt and sewing the folds closed.
She went to my trousseau drawer and removed the shawl and scarves. She forced one wadded scarf into my mouth before tying it there with a long scarf wrapped around my head under my hair. If I had been capable of speech I couldn't make more than a small sound now. Another scarf wrapped over my hair before Abbie rolled me over face down again to lace my dress at the back. Finally she sewed the scarf over my head to the neck of my dress and to the scarf holding the gag in place.
"I'm sorry, Miss Rebecca, but I've nearly finished. One last thing..."
Abbie pushed me into a sitting position on the edge of the bed. She took my beautiful heavy shawl and threw it over my head. I felt her tie it around my body under my bust and around my waist. She pushed me so that I fell back on the bed. She wrapped the shawl around my legs and tied again around my thighs, below my knees and at my ankles. The shawl was beyond my feet. She knotted it together.
I couldn't see, couldn't speak, couldn't move even if I hadn't been drugged and was a completely helpless silk parcel inside my shawl.
The details of what happened next I only know because Abbie told me much later. At the time I was terrified. I had begun to regain control of my muscles but what was the use? I was too completely imprisoned in my own clothing. I was helpless in my own bedroom and had no idea what was to happen to me. I could scarcely breathe through the material of my shawl. I felt myself being lifted and then laid on my back with my knees bent up towards my chest. I seemed to be inside some sort of box or case. I was carried along the corridor and down the servants' stairs to Sir James' waiting carriage. I was heaved into the carriage and placed across one of the seats. I heard what I now know was Sir James talking to Abbie before the carriage started off.
It obviously didn't leave our abode by the main carriage drive because I was jolted severely in the short journey.
It ended suddenly with a loud bang as someone discharged a gun. The carriage jerked to a halt. Some male voice spoke angrily to Sir James ordering him to get down.
My box was lifted out of the carriage and laid on the ground. I heard someone scrabbling at the fastenings as the carriage drove away. Hands reached in and pulled me out. I realised that I had been rescued but it took interminable minutes to release me from the fiendish bondage sewn together by Abbie. My dress was ruined as someone used a knife to cut through the sewn seams. At last I could see and breathe.
The first face I saw by the light of a hand lantern was my former maid Jane. Once she had removed my gag she kissed me gently on the lips.
"You're safe now, Rebecca. He's gone."
I couldn't reply. My mouth was bruised and dry. Albert, her Albert, held a flask to my lips. It was filled with cool fresh water.
"Thank you," I breathed. "Thanks to both of you."
"You'll need to thank Abbie too."
"Abbie? She did this to me," I snorted indignantly.
"She was forced to do it, as were the others. She managed to get a message to me so that Albert and I could rescue you. She sewed you into your clothes to give us time. Sir James intended to ravish you so that you, an heiress, would be forced to marry him. He couldn't get through all her sewing to carry out his dastardly plan."
Eventually I did thank Abbie but I was glad that she went to work for someone else with a good recommendation from us. After Jane's gentle hands caressing me, I couldn't face Abbie's hands touching me knowing that they had bound and control me and nearly condemned me to a dreadful fate.