Continuing the country house theme from yesterday, I find myself picturing a house in which the housekeeper deals with all the female servants, and the butler deals with all the males. This is usually done discreetly, the punishments administered in the privacy of the pantry, with the door closed.
Except this one time, when the senior servants come downstairs one evening to discover that the maids and the footmen have been having a party in the kitchen. They didn’t stoop so far as to steal His Lordship’s food and wine, oh, no. One of the lads had run to the village to buy a few bottles and some cakes, and all the servants have proceeded to get drunk together.
The housekeeper and the butler are disgusted. They cannot dismiss the entire staff – this would be inconvenient, and would also cast a shadow over their management skills. Instead, they decide to punish all the culprits together, in front of each other.
The following evening, after the servants have sobered up, and all their duties for the day are finished, they are told to gather in the kitchen. There they find a bucket filled with brine, and a veritable forest of switches soaking there. The butler announces that they would go in reverse order of seniority – starting with the scullery maid, ending with His Lordship’s valet.
Skirts are raised, trousers are lowered. One by one, the disgraced servants bend over the end of the kitchen table. The housekeeper and the butler take turns, bringing down the switch onto increasingly marked buttocks.
The servants struggle to take their whipping in silence, ashamed of showing weakness in front of all their friends. Sometimes, a cry will escape clamped lips, as the switch bites into a particularly tender patch of skin. There are silent tears, and an occasional deep sob.
It’s a long hour. When it’s over, the kitchen is full of very downcast young people, none of them daring to raise their red-rimmed eyes.
“Clear up the kitchen, and let us say no more about this,” orders the housekeeper.
Moving painfully, careful not to brush their aching bottoms against the furniture, the kitchen maids set about clearing up the switch debris, while all the others file out to go to their beds.
Their own beds? Or will there be some comfort to be shared between friends in trouble? Perhaps, some cool cloths drawn over angry welts, some kisses on tear-stained cheeks? I hope so: being punished is a lonely business, even if your suffering is as public as it gets.