Content warnings for this story (click here for guide):
“Get your filthy hands off me!” screeched the erstwhile Lady Devereaux, as her two captors, the sons of the publican and the weaver respectively, pinned her breast-first over the stone wall.
“She does love a pronouncement, doesn’t she?” quipped one.
“Now,” said Anna. “Who is willing to administer a good whipping? I think 12 strokes will do.”
“NO!” Beatrice howled, kicking her increasingly grubby feet.
“I should be delighted,” said Randall, the saddler, a tall and solid fellow with strong forearms. “Lady Devereaux here sent my poor niece Martha to the brothels, just for sticking out her tongue at a soldier. Been waiting a long time for revenge.”
He produced an elegant crop from hs boot. “Just finished this beauty today and was planning to test it on some old cow-hide before using it on a decent horse.”
“This is almost as good,” grinned Anna. “Please, have at it!”
Randall took the stance, but paused. “Well, that’s no good.”
He knelt behind Beatrice and passed his hands around her waist, deftly untying her drawers.
“NO! Leave me be, you blasted yokel!” she yelled, which only made the assembled laugh harder. Randall loosened the silk and slid it down to reveal Beatrice’s plump little arse. Whistles and whoops accompanied the unveiling, and Beatrice blushed a furious red.
“That’s better,” said Randall. “Pale as a moonbeam! We’ll soon fix that.”
He stood up behind the mewling girl and flicked the crop to land.
“OWWWWW!” gasped Beatrice. “This is treason! TREAS -”
“You’re no queen, my darling,” said Randall, and down came the crop again, leaving a second raging stripe. “And after this, no seat will feel much like a throne.”
SWAPP! THWACK! THWICK! WHACK!
Beatrice could no longer shout abuse, and merely kicked and sobbed as she was spanked like a schoolgirl. Snot dripped from her nose and her bejewelled hair looked like a dew-splashed hedge.
“Dear me, the delicate Lady Devereaux doesn’t like her little arse being shown off,” said the publican’s wife Annie. “Such a fuss!”
“Had her soldiers do it to enough of our girls, though, ain’t she?” said another woman. “Go on, make them last three count, Randall!”
Randall nodded and delivered the final three strokes with purpose.
“Yowls like a cat, doesn’t she?” giggled one of the young girls, as Beatrice was helped up.
Lady Devereaux reached down to pull up her silk drawers once more, but Anna shook her head and nodded to the two strong lads.
“We’ll keep those. Those should make a tidy sum at market – lovely quality. It can go to one of the families in need of food.”
“But…But…they’re mine!” wailed Beatrice, as her silken underwear was wrestled from her ankles. She flung her skirts down over her naked, scourged bottom and shivered.
“Let us be plain,” said Anna. “Nothing you own is yours. Not by merit. Everything you own has been paid for by you or your husband’s crimes. You were dressed by our hands and you will be undressed in just the same way.”
“Shall we take the other jewels?” asked Clover.
Anna nodded. “We’ll put them into a pot to redistribute among the worst hit.”
Beatrice snarled and spat on the ground as hands jostled her and pinched her skin, stripping her of her gold bracelets, rings and pendants.
“You should probably give up any trinkets you’re holding at this point,” said Anna. “We will have them from you one way or another, and it’s in your interests to hand them over quietly. We may be angry and we may want justice, but unlike you and your Lord, we are not monsters.”
“You stinking peasants have taken everything but the clothes I wear!” declared Beatrice, aggrieved at the invasion. But as she smoothed her tousled hair, one or two gems fell from the curls.
“Here! She’s smuggling jewels in her locks!” cried an elderly farmer, as several hands grasped for her hair, trying to pull loose the sparkling stones.
“OWWW! You animals! Let go of me!” bleated Beatrice, slapping and biting the fingers that came near her.
“My fellow Carbastonians, stop!” said Anna. “This is not the way civilised people get back what’s theirs!”
Beatrice looked warily at her chief captor as the townspeople retreated. She drew herself up tall and scowled at them all.
“We do not grab at the hair of women like rats grabbing grain,” Anna scolded her neighbours. “We do things correctly.”
Beatrice smirked for a half-second before strong hands dumped her back in her wooden chair.
“What are you -?” she spluttered. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Mr Harper,” said Anna. “Would you do the honours please?”
Beatrice looked frantically round to see Harper the Shepherd approaching, holding his trusty shearing clippers.
“NO!” she bawled. “NO!”
“You’re a vain little thing, aren’t you?” said Harper, sharpening the shears. “Your father always said you were and I thought he was being a brute. But when you forced all the girls to smother their hair under rags, and punished them for daring to show a lock or two in public, I saw what he meant. And now this!”
He yanked a hank of Beatrice’s hair, holding it up to the light. Countless cut stones glimmered in the waves.
“This,” said Harper, “is public property. And we will be taking it back forthwith, m’lady.”
He snicked the blades of the shears.
“NO!” yelled Beatrice, holding her hands over her hair. She sprang up to escape, but Harper, used to manhandling ewes, caught hold of her and trapped her with his legs. He flipped up her skirts once more and dealt her several sharp slaps on the buttocks, then set to work.
As the blades flashed, the hair tumbled from the sobbing girl’s head. Harper’s hands were swift and accurate, and he harvested her pretty curls in a neat pile. After less than a minute he brushed off the loose strands and stood the wailing Beatrice up before the crowd.
A gasp rose at the apparition. The luxuriantly-maned lady was no more. Before them stood a wailing, snot-nosed creature, bald but for the odd pathetic tuft.
“What…have…you DONE…t-to…m-me?” sniffed Beatrice, scarlet with shame and rage.
“Well, if you weren’t going to hand back your jewels, we had to take them back somehow,” said Harper, wiping his shears on her dress. “Besides, you needed a little humbling!”
“I can’t…I can’t look like this!” she whispered in horror and disbelief, gripping her naked scalp.
“Here!” yelled a voice. “Stick this on!”
A musty grey rag hit Beatrice in the face.
“Go on!” called another person. “They’re what you made us wear! You can cover up your shiny goblin head with one!”
A second rag fell at her feet. Then a third. Suddenly every hated headwrap was brought out and hurled at the shorn woman.
Beatrice wrinkled her nose at the stale smell of the cloths, with their layers of sweat and grease from toil and trial.
Rosie Plater promptly dunked hers in the cattle trough, then strode over to her former ruler. She did not wring out the cloth, but slapped it onto Beatrice’s pink head, causing her to squeal as cold rivulets ran down her skin. The grey rag was yanked tight and tied in a double knot, in comical contrast to Beatrice’s fine gown.
“Now you keep that on, Missy,” said Rosie, enjoying the outrage on Beatrice’s face. “Lest we mistake you for a little trollop and pack you off to the whorehouse!”
She walloped Beatrice’s behind as one might a cow, to hoots of laughter.
“Very well,” said Anna. “Now we must untangle these treasures, count them and divide them. While we do that – in plain view, for transparency – we must plan what to do next with Lady Devereaux.”
“I confess,” said the carpenter, “I may have a suggestion. You see, I had a commission from a pleasure-district house in the city for a very interesting device…”