Story from Janus 59.
A Travelling-Man's Confession
by Richard Manton
I DOUBT if you would care to change places with me, supposing you were to see me on the train or in the dining-room of a commercial hotel. A travelling-man with a leather bag and a portfolio of documents. A face with spectacles and moustache that you might change for a million others and never know the difference. A dull fellow on his way to perform some tedious duty for a mean employer. That is how you would see me. Journeying late at night in ill-lit draughty carriages. Sleeping on starched and unfamiliar sheets, lodging on lonely beds in rented and fly-spotted rooms.
You see? I cannot lay claim to the make-believe of romance. The secret I share with you now is an episode in the most ordinary life.
You would not look at me twice. A sympathetic glance and home you go to the arms of your warm plump Louise, or your wriggling little Jacqueline, or your dreamily lecherous Michelle. Perhaps you have a fluffy young wife with a round and agile little bottom who will carry in the supper and precede you lasciviously up the stairs to bed. Or else an almond-eyed and tawny-skinned young mistress with a touch of the perverse about her waits for you in a secret apartment.
How you pity the poor travelling-man! But I do not envy your private moments with Michelle or Louise. I might give my reason in many words or few. For the moment, I choose just one.
The word might be Joanne, or Sharon, or Vicky. For the moment it shall be Noreen.
To you that name means nothing. For me it evokes an image as real as your own face in the morning mirror. A girl of nineteen. Not a beauty queen but lithe and plainly good-looking, damnably provoking as only a well-built young trollop can be! Picture a fair-skinned firm-featured young face with a resolute chin that hints at defiance. See the lazy insolence reflected in the slant of her brown eyes. The hair is lank and dark, worn in a level fringe across her forehead, cut round to touch her collar and cover her ears.
There are girls of nineteen who demand to be treated gently as Meissen dolls and others who do not. Noreen belongs to the latter kind. She is quite tall in figure, not flabby but well made. Her shape is of the kind that goes with a white blouse and plain denim shirt, or a white singlet to show her firm breasts and strong young back, matched by the tight fit of smooth denim riding-pants. The pale blue denim, strained taut as drumskin on her well-exercised young figure, shows thighs that are sturdy but not fat, hips that are robust, and a pair of nicely firmed-out globes – Noreen's bottom-cheeks under her tight jeans-seat. She has the look of a well-developed outdoor girl, who prefers sensible tight pants to the flowing skirts of the middle-class miss.
Let me tell you how I first saw her.
I shall not be so indiscreet as to give you the name of my employer nor that of the charity whose patron he remains. You know as well as I that there are young men and women who fall by the way and are reclaimed under a regime of stern moral authority and wholesome toil. Among female miscreants in their teens or twenties there are young sluts, trollops, tarts, slatterns – call them what you will – who must otherwise languish in the moral corruption of a prison. Happily, a magistrate may grant a probation and impose what conditions seem best. The charitable organisation of which I speak offers secure premises and a programme of useful labour. Two or three years of residence with enlightened supervision and demanding work is to be preferred to the contagion of the penitentiary. But one dare not consign young women to reformers – male or female – without further inspection. Who will guard the guards themselves, as the wise Roman asked?
I will. In me you see what the Russians would call the Inspector-General of those establishments which owe their existence to my employer's generosity. I am the man whom their directors dread. They know I watch keenly during my visits and travel back to London with my reports. So long as I exist to monitor them, the public sleeps content. Scandal is what authority fears most. I need not remind you what newspaper revelations followed the canings on the bare tomboy bottom of Elaine Cox, the fifth-form girl, or the naked birching of the round lascivious buttocks of Jacqueline Grant. We want no more of that.
I followed my calling for about two years, drawing up my reports promptly and neatly. I am an exact man. Those who know me would tell you as much. It was a fine day in November when I set out on my visit to Hollingsworth, the country residence where Mr Brown apprenticed delinquent beauty.
The railway does not run to that remote moorland hamlet, almost within earshot of a steep and lonely coast. There are no chance visitors at Hollingsworth House. You leave the train at a cathedral city 15 miles short of your destination. Someone waits by appointment in the station yard to drive you the rest of the way.
Mr Brown has great commercial influence in that city. He is not so great a benefactor as my employer but Hollingsworth is his 'hobby' and he spends upon it the surplus of the wealth which his business brings in.
In a mere story, chance would never play the part in my life which it did that November afternoon. Through some misunderstanding the driver who was to take me to Hollingsworth supposed that I should be on the later train. I found myself standing, leather bag in hand, in the station forecourt. I had an hour to wait. Rather than remain there, I went wandering the streets, admiring a mediaeval corner here and a Tudor mansion there. Mr Brown's name occurred several times on the boards of prosperous enterprises.
It was in passing one of these that I noticed a well-built girl of nineteen vigorously shining the floor where the treasures of Mr Brown's emporium were set out. I knew that the girls at Hollingsworth were required to work for their master. I suppose I knew that they were sometimes brought into town to do so. But I had never noticed this one on my visits to the moorland house. She had been only one face among thirty or forty. Had I not chanced to encounter her now, I do not think I should ever have picked her out.
She was kneeling with her back to me, sitting on her heels, working her cloth with vigour and determination – reflected in the set of her jaw and the wide points of her cheekbones. It was not a job to be done in flowing skirts. Noreen was dressed for her menial task in white singlet and the faded blue denim of pants. A stout leather waist-belt kept the denim tight and smooth, making her lower figure an object of great interest. Several gentlemen paused to glance or stare. She responded with a pretence at indifference or a contemptuous flick of her fringe. I believe it was this challenge in the girl's manner that made her irresistible to one's authoritarian instincts.
When she inclined her back forward a little, with the energy of her polishing, the faded blue denim of the jeans was skin-tight over Noreen's bottom-cheeks and hips, which naturally swelled fuller and broader as she sat on her heels. To this day I do not think Noreen realised the rear view she offered to these casual admirers. Yet such was her disdain for them that I doubt if she cared. Sometimes she stopped and turned her face to one of the gentlemen with a hard and most impudent stare, as if to dismiss him. But the day's work must be finished and soon she resumed it.
To reach further, it was necessary for the girl to lift her hips and go forward on all fours, the collar length of lank dark hair falling loose about her face. As she raised her haunches from her heels and went forward on hands and knees, it was possible to hear a sharp intake of breath among those who saw her. In this posture, each of Noreen's buttocks filled her jeans-seat like a smooth and taut balloon-swell, though her thighs were still the firmly-muscled legs of a well-exercised working girl. Her broad leather bell pulled the washed-out denim still closer against her rear curves.
How suggestive was the sight she now presented! The faded blue jeans were skin-smooth, shaping the firmly-stretched mounds of Noreen's behind. At the same time, as she knelt forward on all fours, the stout central seam of the jeans-seat was drawn deep and taut between the slight fatness or heaviness of Noreen's broadened bottom-cheeks. It was strained forward under her legs where a certain intimate softness of feminine flesh was moulded by the thin denim. No wonder that Noreen at nineteen had the reputation of a strapping young wench. To look at her now was to understand why. Her backside, in this posture, appeared robust and full-cheeked but firm and well-shaped at the same time. Noreen's knickers were clearly outlined through the thin taut denim of the jeans. They were briefs of elasticated cotton, usual among girls of her age and type. From the rear opening of her legs, the ridge of the hem arched up brief and tight over her buttocks, showing that the cheeks of Noreen's statuesque young backside were half bare under her jeans.
She worked vigorously in this posture for five or ten minutes, inclining her hips a little this way and that, unknowingly presenting her young behind one way and another, sometimes backing towards her admirers, sometimes kneeling over more tightly to polish under a chest or counter, Noreen's rear cheeks more fully and separately presented. The smiles exchanged among her admirers confirmed how their imaginations penetrated the smooth denim while Noreen presented her rear aspect with such unwitting abandon. Those who studied her had lost all interest except one. She had ceased to exist as a girl of character and offered them instead a single object which the theorists of fetishism insist may exclude all others. They cared nothing for her – but only for Noreen's bottom.
Those who peruse the literature of the subject know full well that the female bottom comes in types and shapes. There are the trim tight saucy buttocks of a soubrette like Jacqueline. You may find the pale oval beauty of the rear cheeks of a nymph at sixteen in Judith or Tracey. Or the full-cheeked adolescent pallor of Elaine's bottom, the appeal of the tomboy A dozen years senior to her, Joanne's full-mooned backside presents the erotic maturity of the experienced and Amazonian young wife. But whatever one's preferences, Hollingsworth House supplies them all.
Noreen was none of these. Hers was the backside of the study firm-hipped girl at nineteen, whom one puts to hard labour. There are, I know, voices to deplore that Noreen's arse should have been the sole subject of her admirers' interest. But if you will reflect upon it, did not that particular female arse tell one a good deal about the character of its young owner?
I confess that, after what I had seen, it was unlikely my visit to Mr Brown would pass without Noreen's backside appearing over a stool or trestle. My critics might maintain that this proved my own obsession. But if her bottom was an expression of her character, was it not her character upon which the chastiser operated?
I need not have concerned myself. There was a man nearby who had watched Noreen's rear view longest and closest, his tongue running repeatedly along his lips. His outrage took the appearance of excitement. Now, in an access of moral fervour, he entered the premises. I later heard, he confronted Mr Brown with a protest about the suggestive manner in which the young slut conducted herself. I cannot tell you his words but I saw animation and colour in his face. There was a tremor in his hands, indicating the offence he felt.
I would have supported his complaint but it was clearly unnecessary. Having no wish to involve myself without purpose, I walked back to the station yard and found my driver. He was a burly taciturn fellow who spoke little during the journey. From main roads we turned into lanes with tall hedges. From these we climbed the moorland slope, coming in twilight to vast horizons of darkened scrub and a sky the colour of ink. A light but stinging rain was in the air, blown fresh from the rollers that churned and broke at the cliffs' foot a few miles off. Beyond the village, several miles from the nearest farm, a track turns off the road. Bumping and swaying, we followed it for ten minutes, coming at last to the gabled mansion of Hollingsworth. A paradise in summer, I daresay, but a place of darkness and gloom in November. Mr Brown was not yet back, said Mrs Fox the senior guardian. With a glass of sherry and a volume of Barchester, I chose the leather chair and awaited my host.
Mr Brown said nothing before dinner, which we took in his private dining room waited on by two of the girls. Only when the savoury was cleared and the port set down did he reveal his preoccupation.
'I fear, sir, that your stay will be marred by a distasteful but necessary exhibition. A girl of nineteen, whom I supposed could be trusted to work for me in the city, has proved me wrong. She is to be made an example of tomorrow night. I do not suggest that you should attend. Two of our local magistrates and their ladies will be present to see that all is properly done.'
'It is no more than my duty to attend, Mr Brown,' I said. 'I know that Lord W------ would wish it.'
'As you please,' said Mr Brown a little gruffly. I do not think he was displeased but he could not be sure how I would report this to Lord W------.
That was the end of the matter for the time being. I assumed, of course, that Noreen was to be whipped but had been told none of the details. It would have been wrong of me to interfere, for I was there to observe and make a report, not to implicate myself in the running of Hollingsworth House. As I lay in bed, before going to sleep, I recalled the sight of Noreen that afternoon as clearly as if it had been a photograph. In the case of a robust and defiant girl of nineteen, I thought, there was no reason why the whip should not be used upon the buxom young cheeks of Noreen's backside. In that case, I could think of no more appropriate posture than the one she had shown herself in, upon all fours. They would kneel her over a block or a heavy stool, I supposed. I could not imagine that they would let her wear a pair of jeans during her punishment. The question then was whether we were to see her rear cheeks clad in the white stretch-cotton briefs of Noreen's knickers. An interesting sight no doubt. But tantalisingly on the edge of consciousness as I drifted to sleep was the thought of seeing the full swelling pallor, the strapping young cheeks of Noreen's bottom presented bare for the whip.
Next day, as I made my little tours of inspection in the house and through the gardens where the girls were put to work, I could scarcely keep my eyes off Noreen. The incident of the previous afternoon had given her a new significance for me! I found that I loitered to watch her at work as she bent to her task, weeding or seeding as they say. Several times she flicked back her lank dark hair and stared round at me without straightening up. The slant of her brown eyes and the firm resolve of her fair-skinned features showed a mingled contempt and resentment. But I stared her out with my authority until one of the guardians ordered her to her task again.
Far from being abashed, I remained standing quite close behind this provoking nineteen-year-old. I did not disguise from Noreen that my interest was in the sturdily-rounded, smoothly-jeaned cheeks of her bottom. Prudence forbade that I should weight and fondle those thinly-clad rear cheeks in my hands. Yet by quiet smiles and indications with my eyes, I made sure that the girl knew what I was looking at and what my thoughts were. I am certain that Noreen felt, in her imagination, the ghosts of my hands in their roving examination of her and my fingers' insistent delving and running, parting and probing. For an hour or so I tantalised her like this at a range of a few yards.
That evening the two magistrates and their ladies were to arrive at nine o'clock to see justice done. After dinner, at about eight, Mr Brown withdrew to the room where Noreen awaited her retribution. I was not invited to accompany him and I can give only my impressions of the examination he carried out.
The door of the room was open just long enough for me to see Noreen. The girl was lying on her belly upon a high couch, her arms tight against the wooden legs at the front and straining down towards the floor in a rather exaggerated and unnatural manner. The pillows were not under her head but packed under her loins to raise her hips and make her rear cheeks swell out fuller and broader. Noreen's face was turned to the door to watch Mr Brown enter. If she felt butterflies in her tummy at what was to come, there was no sign of it. Under the narrow and level fringe of her dark hair, the same resolve appeared in her fair-skinned features. The brown eyes stared impudently. Indeed, two spots of anger seemed to burn at the points of her broad cheekbones. The reason for the anger was plain to see. The young hoyden was clad only in her short white singlet, obliging her to offer a view that was much in demand among her followers. The hem of the singlet was drawn up to the small of her back so that the swelling full-moon pallor of Noreen's rear cheeks was admirably presented to Mr Brown.
Before the door swung to on its automatic device, there was time to see Mr Brown approach. He sat at an angle on the couch, level with Noreen's hips but looking towards her feet. Ignoring her face and, indeed, her upper half, he circled her waist with his left arm to steady her. Leaning to do this, we were confronted at eighteen inches by a full view of Noreen's pale seat. One heard her gasps of frustration, a determined gritting of her young teeth. But the double swell of Noreen's behind was at the disposal of Mr Brown's survey.
I cannot give an eyewitness account of what occurred in that room during the next hour, while the discipline was prepared elsewhere. Nor would it be proper to tell tales. Yet one longed to be a fly upon the wall! Happy the fly when the full pale cheeks of Noreen's bottom are the centre of attention. The insect must feel swelling enthusiasm and stiffening resolve, striving to bring its busy back legs to order. The girl had been obliged to wait alone an hour like this. No doubt the daring bluebottle enjoyed a long intimate pestering of Noreen's bare backside. A most vulgar intrusion into privacy! How many men would yearn to be that audacious and intrusive fly in such a cheeky locale!
From the next room, where I waited, it was possible to hear Mr Brown's murmurs to Noreen as the girl tensed at his investigation. Her gasps were sometimes almost a snarl of defiance. The springs of the couch shifted under the squirming pressure of her knees. There were sounds as of Mr Brown smacking his hands hard, or making some similar contact. There was a smack to make Noreen's bottom turn this way and another smack to make her turn it another way. There was a smack to make Noreen lie further over and double smack to make her lie still. There were smacks for good reason and smacks for no reason. I cannot tell whether it was Mr Brown's hand or some aspect of Noreen that smarted like fire by the time the door opened again.
Nor can I verify all his words. The advice, 'You must make a start, Noreen!' is very like, 'You fat-arsed young tart, Noreen!' if a wall is between speaker and listener. But I heard some significant words, and many a sounding seat-smack. 'Each Saturday night ... over a trestle, Noreen ... backside properly bare ... bamboo teaches obedience first... your bottom, Noreen ... frantic already? ... your bottom again, Noreen! ... snakeskin ... can't? ... get it anyway, Noreen! ... chastiser naturally eager ... your bare bottom, Noreen ... shrill and urgent ... all night ... changed girl, Noreen! ... state of your bottom, Noreen! ... begin again! ... bottom smacked first, Noreen ... across your backside, Noreen!'
There was no doubt that Mr Brown's examination of the seat of this nineteen-year-old hoyden was conscientious in the extreme. I concluded that he considered the pale sturdy cheek-swell in every attitude of tension or slackening, every shifting and rounding. He observed closely the nature of the curves, fatter and softer in the lower slope. He steadied the flanks and mapped with his hands the smooth double contours. From the cool mounds he passed to the warmer incurve and subtle changes of skin tone firmly revealed. By the time he had finished, he had acquired a knowledge of the terrain that might be envied in vain by Noreen's boyfriend or her bridegroom, were she allowed to have either.
It was after nine when we were summoned to the exercise-room. There I met the two magistrates, accompanied by their ladies. I was surprised that these middle-aged gentlemen had such very young wives. But then, perhaps ladies and wives are not always the same thing. We were accommodated in easy chairs while Noreen was brought in. A tall stool was at the centre of the floor to lend her the support she needed.
It would be wrong of me to invent more than I saw – and indiscreet to colour in certain details of the next half-hour. I was able to see Noreen's face for she flicked her narrow fringe and the collar-length of her hair back in order to look round with firm-featured contempt at us. Indeed, Mr Brown ordered the young wanton to keep her face towards us so that we might observe the effect upon her. Guiding her flanks, he also required Noreen to turn the swell of her broadened bottom more fully towards us. I may tell you that the eyes of the young ladies were sparkling with anticipation and that the gentlemen already shifted as if at the tightness of their suiting.
The cupboard switch was quiveringly long and supple. Mr Brown teased out the preliminaries by measuring this way and that across the robust cheek-pallor before him. He gave Noreen a first taste with an energy that made the very air sing. She kicked out with what was, I think, a purely reflexive anger. Cautioned for that, six times across her cheek-swell and twice high on the rear of her legs, Noreen gasped and tensed. Caught twice again, she drew one knee up urgently as if to show us how he had made her smart. Not once did she straighten up. Often her shoulders lifted as if she strained to raise from the floor a weight that was too much for her. There was no weight that I could see.
With the singlet hem well above her hips, Noreen's backside was indeed properly bare. The lesson taught her was exemplary, as such lessons should always be. With such vulgar impudence as Noreen's on display, one hoped that the ritual would not end before the clock's hands reached the next five minute mark. Nor did it. One hoped, then, that the next mark would be passed. And so it was. The one after that. And the next. Nor did the pace slacken. In dealing with this robust young working-girl, Mr Brown always ensured that each impact landed long before the previous one could be contained. There is such a telling smack with supple snakeskin. One saw first a jump and quiver of Noreen's pale bottom-flesh, then a vigorous but constrained surging and rounding. But the next aim caught her at once and the restraint broke in a most unladylike display of kicking out and a salvo of vulgarity directed at her betters.
Mr Brown curbed this by saluting the lower and fatter swell of Noreen's bottom-cheeks. What posterior contortions she performed! We saw her toes curl with the intensity of it. One knee was jammed frantically into the back of the other in desperate self-containment. Twice more she kicked out and, after a pause for a vigorous reprimand, she paid dearly and repeatedly for her misconduct. Noreen's bottom assumed more attitudes and angles in tribute to Mr Brown's skill than one would imagine possible. Had it not been for the stool, I think her knees would have given under her. But by this support she was enabled to receive all that Mr Brown required.
The clock moved on again, and still he was not satisfied with his strapping young trollop, as he called Noreen. He wove her a seat of fire, making her rise on her toes at the skill of his intricate design. Had there been a recording of the event, it would have been prudent to enjoy Noreen's soprano arias for the next ten minutes with the volume turned down a little. I am sure that no tragedienne ever equalled the mask of frenzy that she turned to us now.
Mr Brown was unmoved. A close survey of Noreen's blazing cheekiness was followed by a resumption. Noreen's bottom already offered a provoking subject to an artist in tones and colours. So wild were her evasions that she had to be reminded to turn it fully to the onlookers again. Mr Brown never spoke in anger, however. His tone was impersonal and implacable, as befitted the occasion. He gave his attention to Noreen yet again, with yet greater skill and energy Then he turned to reprimand, and then to Noreen's bottom once more. She made the stone walls ring and I thought it indeed prudent that we were out of earshot of the other girls and the guardians. That shrilling outburst was expiated low down, on Noreen's fullest cheekiness. And still Noreen's bottom claimed all Mr Brown's concentration. He was far from satisfied with her.
It seemed that each time the session neared its conclusion, Mr Brown could not quite bring himself to finish off. Oblivious of the clock-hands, he flexed the singing switch, imprinting another scorching kiss – and then another.
I do not think, when he at last returned it to the cupboard, that either the ladies or the gentlemen could complain of his leniency towards Noreen. The final scene is not one that can be adequately described – or should be written down even if it could be. I will only say that it was decided, upon my suggestion, that a permanent improvement in Noreen's conduct might be effected by a visit from a certain official whose expertise is in severity. This was arranged, though a convenient date was some weeks away. Noreen was informed at once so that, as Mr Brown smilingly described it, she might enjoy a month or so of anticipation.
The cynical will always put the worst interpretation on these matters. My report on Hollingsworth House was entirely favourable. Let me tell you why. That Noreen who was under reformation broke the conditions by her wanton public display and repeated insolence, I cannot doubt. That Mr Brown, having resolved upon chastisement, took the utmost care in examining Noreen's suitability for it is entirely to his credit. That the occasion was one of propriety and prudence is shown by the presence of the magistrates and their ladies. I was obliged to urge my patron to show every favour to the worthy Mr Brown.
There are those who will give way to evil gossip. Not I. I do not presume to put a sinister construction upon events. I visited Hollingsworth House as often as I could after this, even spending my own time there at certain weekends. So strongly did I feel that Mr Brown should be supported in his moral endeavours. During my frequent visits, I had a comfortable room which looked across the courtyard to the wing where Noreen, Sian, Maggie, and several of the other girls slept. They could not leave that suite of rooms. The locks ensured that. But safety required that they should be able to reach the remote washroom at the end of the long corridor, from which a fire alarm might be sounded.
There were many nights when the light burned in the washroom at the end of their long corridor from midnight until the lamp paled in the light of dawn. I recall myself that I once put a hand on the shade at seven in the morning and it was still warm! On those nights when the light burnt in the end washroom, Mr Brown was present in that place. I gather it was his custom to supervise certain maintenance work at night. A good deed done in secret, no doubt. On these nights, the guardian reported to me with a smile that Noreen was not in her cubicle at the time of checking. Her clothes remained except for one short singlet and her briefs, in which she customarily slept. It was certainly true that one would see the light in Noreen's cubicle go on briefly and then the light of the washroom go on and remain for several hours. Then that would go out and Noreen's window be briefly lit before Mr Brown and the overseer left. But this I regard as coincidence and of no significance. Once or twice I have seen the same coincidence in the case of Maggie or Sian.
Only the malicious will make anything of Noreen's absence in the distant tiled apartment, where a drink of water was to be had. Her prolonged absence from bed might seem unusual – but what possible reason would Mr Brown and his overseer have for detaining Noreen in that washroom, clad in her singlet and briefs, for several hours of the night? I made a point of being the first to enter that spacious and high-ceilinged room on several mornings. Judge the case for yourself. I do not think you would intervene on Noreen's behalf.
I found nothing ominous about the tall and heavy stool being left carelessly at the centre of the floor. A pair of Noreen's knickers, the stretch-briefs, lay discarded on the tiles. Merely her slovenliness to be sure. I daresay Mr Brown and his overseer must have worked there several hours, for fifteen or twenty of their cigarette-butts were trodden out on the floor and the air was still smoky. They had been clearing a drain, I think, for three or four garden canes lay splintered on the table. Such slim rods are useful for clearing the pipes. Two looped lengths of sash-cord, rather frayed and knotted at regular intervals, suggested that these industrious gentlemen had also been at make-do-and-mend with the windows.
Noreen, whose visit presumably interrupted their worthy labours, deserved little praise. The white threads caught on the rough top of the stool matched the damage to the belly of her singlet which I observed next day. She was sluttish enough to lie over furniture rather than walk round it to reach what she wanted. Low down on the forward legs of the stool, the varnish had been badly marked by a furious and energetic scratching of fingernails, which I know was her deliberate vandalism. One of her shoes lay in a corner, where she had kicked it with considerable energy. The tiles were marked by her shoes, whose tips were scuffed as if by Noreen rising on her toes to reach right over the stool. The legs of the stool itself were snubbed at their ends as if she had budged it on the tiles with her full weight upon it. Skin had scuffed on the stool legs as well. When I saw that Noreen's bare knees were slightly grazed, I thought she deserved it for pressing herself so roughly against the furniture. The violence of her energy I leave you to imagine!
I made my report accordingly, praising Mr Brown's industry and recommending that Noreen's insolence and brooding resentment required a lengthening of her probation by two more years. On the night after I informed Mr Brown that this request was granted, I noted that the washroom light went on at 11 pm and off at 3 am. The second night it burnt from 2 until 5 am. The third from midnight until 6.30. I heard not a single untoward sound from that distant lighted place, except those one hears at night in the country – what I took to be the screech owl and the muffled but urgent mewing of a female cat.
Sometimes it is taxing to make precise observations. The night after that, the light in Noreen's window went on briefly at 11 pm and the washroom lamp burned for an hour. Then all was dark. At 1 am the girl's light shone for a minute and the washroom light for two hours. And then again at 4.30, the brief light in her room and an hour of the washroom light. I believe I should have slept through it all. But the moment that washroom lamp showed, it brought such plaintive protests from some screech-bird or other that you would have thought murder was done three times that night, long and slow.
I concede that on many mornings there was no doubt that Noreen appeared subdued, or rather cautious and thoughtful. Where is the harm in that? She also walked carefully and cautiously, as if on an invisible tightrope and sat down in a somewhat strained and unnatural manner. One day, when the time came for her to shed the working-jeans in favour of a denim skirt she was, as usual, in the presence of two guardians, Mrs Fox and Miss Stuart. Of course she did not strip off her underwear in front of them but merely the top layer.
The hem at the seat of her white stretch-briefs arched up high and tight over each cheek of Noreen's backside, not entirely concealing her complete rear view. Miss Stuart smiled at what was now revealed as the nineteen-year-old girl turned her back, bending down to pick up the fallen jeans from the carpet.
Turning to Mrs Fox, Miss Stuart said that she now understood why Noreen had been so pensive and self-absorbed all day. Miss Stuart explained that she had had no idea that the exemplary discipline upon Noreen, ordered by the inspector, had been carried out the night before.
Mrs Fox smiled too, for Noreen heard every word that passed. She explained that the judicial ritual was not to take place for another fortnight. It would be more formal and rigorous than any that had so far marked the young trollop's education. On the previous night Noreen had received no more than a bottom-smack or two, given casually for her impertinence to her betters. The formal reckoning that lay in store was to be a prolonged session of far greater intensity. When Noreen was told the precise date and time, and what to expect, said Mrs Fox, several days and nights of waiting would follow. At night one would hear the restless and sleepless movements of this nineteen-year-old culprit, the gasps and sighs of her frantic self-pity at the appointment awaiting her. Noreen might be glimpsed lying there and looking over her shoulder, desperately examining her own backside in the mirror, as if to catch a final glimpse of it in its present unblemished pallor. In her sleepless apprehension there would be touchings, frettings and squirmings, until Noreen's bottom itched in her dread anticipation.
Mrs Fox reported all this while Noreen stood there aghast. And then the glances of amusement and satisfaction which Mrs Fox and Miss Stuart exchanged were turned upon the insolent girl. Noreen was unable to take her gaze from the smiles of the two women as the dismay in her contemptuous young face turned to panic.
I would not have you imagine that my life is taken up with Hollingsworth House, for it is only one of the almost twenty establishments under my supervision. I might as well have talked of Joanne or Heather, Lesley or Louise, Sharon or Vicky. But I have chosen to begin with Noreen, for that surely is a story to reassure you that you need not pity the plight of the travelling-man with his case and his portfolio of papers.
The camera as well as the pen is used in submitting reports to our patron. Copies of the photographic gems are also made for the inspector. As I sit here, a selection hangs framed before me, all the same subject. The first two would be the pride of any lensman. Full-plate studies, they present facial portraits in a variety of moods. There is Noreen with her defiant resolve in her firm young jaw and profile, contempt in the slant of her brown eyes. There is another similar, where she has shaken her fringe clear and is looking back over her shoulder, the lank dark hair just lapping her collar. Another shows her firm young face upside down, lank dark hair falling, as Noreen looks back fearfully at something in the room through the arch of her own bare legs.
There are a dozen portraits in all and you would marvel at the change of expression on the young trollop's face. Noreen looking back over her shoulder again, frantic at what is happening, knowing she can endure only a few seconds more of the minutes or hours to come. Noreen with mouth wide and wild, eyes brimming. What satisfaction this would have given her followers! Then Noreen, a big girl of nineteen, chastised and self-pitying as a well-smacked infant.
By no means all the close-ups are of her face. A dozen more are equally informative. Noreen's bottom immortalised as she bends to some labour or other, unaware of the interest taken in her. The full-plate shows the jeans drawn smooth as her skin over the swelling hemispheres of her buttocks. The tight line of Noreen's briefs just visible from between the back of her legs and up over each cheek. The central seam drawn deep and taut as a hawser between Noreen's bottom-cheeks, making this a most suggestive study of the seat of beauty-caught-bending. A swelling full-cheeked masterpiece, the more suggestive for the subject's unawareness of this public display.
Then a quartet of Noreen's backside bare over the stool, caught from a variety of angles. Several more full-plates display the cheeks of Noreen's bottom in every stage from pallid smoothness to the indescribable embroidery of a lesson taught by an expert teacher. The willow-pattern was never printed more fiercely nor with greater ingenuity than this.
A man cannot always find pretexts for a visit to Hollingsworth, least of all when there are so many other calls upon his time. But science has reduced the miles to naught, in one respect. To be sure, a travelling-man must sometimes spend a night in a rented and fly-spotted room, but the telephone by his bed may ring. He may pick it up and hear the voice of Mr Brown. Indeed, the benefit of the telephone is that when the caller places it carefully one may hear all that passes within ten feet of it. Mr Brown has a voice that is calm but clear.
'Pants on the chair, Noreen ... Now the sofa, if you please ... Over the scroll at the end ... Forward tightly ... Quite still for the inspection ... Ah, one must always start at the bottom, Noreen, with a girl of your sort ... Much rounder and fuller, if you please ... Now, smack on target, Noreen! ... And smack again! More tightly over! ... More bottom-swell, Noreen ... Such absurd modesty, when the door is safely bolted! ... No danger of interruptions, Noreen! ... A well-caned seat for you later on, Noreen ... Something to admire in your mirror tonight! ... I can feel your heart beat faster, Noreen! ... First I must cure my itchy palm ... Smarting from that bottom-smack, Noreen? ... One to make your cheeks clench! ... Another to make you jig! ... Anyone would think you'd sat bare-bottomed in spilt rouge-powder, Noreen! ... Keep properly still for the next one ... I'll have you looking like a hand-reared girl before I go to the cupboard for the switch ... Right where it smarts, Noreen! Quite still! ... Other bottom-cheek, Noreen! ... Does it feel like sitting on a wasps' nest? ... More of your bottom, Noreen!'
The travelling-man in his shabby room closes his eyes and listens contentedly for the next hour. Is it reality or illusion, the shifting of sofa-springs, the gasps from a determined and insolent girl of nineteen? The sounds of Noreen bottom-smacked, the printing of the fire-red willow-pattern on sturdy pale moon-cheeks, Noreen's arias and Mr Brown's commands – true or false? Others might hesitate but a travelling-man knows the truth. His smile conveys the answer as he listens. No prude is he. He may be well to the rear in ferreting out the secrets of Noreen, Sharon, Vicky, Joanne and their kind. But his audacity behind closed doors with young married women, or adolescent tomboys, would surely raise the temperature of the hot-blooded fly on the wall.
The printing of a vividly smarting willow-pattern seat for Noreen to contemplate ruefully in her bedroom hand-mirror is a long and intricate process. With the firm-cheeked spread of Noreen's backside over the sofa, it could hardly be otherwise. It would be unreasonable to expect Mr Brown to ignore an opportunity for adding an intimate leather cirlicue or a lurid stripe on the lower and falter swell of Noreen's bottom. The listener thoroughly enjoys the sounds in his lonely room, smiling at the thought of his next visit to teenage Sharon or mature Joanne or Noreen herself. He settles down and listens intently to the soprano wildness of a strapping young trollop.
I remember a weekend in Mr Brown's private rooms during March. The house had been in his family for generations, the walls hung with portraits of previous owners. After several inspections I noticed a photograph, a family group including servants, taken at the turn of the century. I scrutinised it, astonished to find a likeness of Noreen staring from the row of housemaids.
That attractive but plain, firm-featured look, the broad points of the cheekbones, a slant of the brown eyes, lank dark hair with its level fringe, must be common among young sluts of her sort. I confess my taste is modern. Victorian damsels are seductive in frills or petticoats. I prefer to see Noreen's bottom as she kneels on all fours to her labour, big-cheeked in that posture but not flabby, smoothly and tightly clad in Falmer jeans. On occasions of formal severity, I prefer only a plain white modern singlet, short enough to leave Noreen's backside and hips full bare when she bends over.
A modern slut has no inhibitions under correction. Stung to fury, Noreen will curse her chastiser and the onlookers as 'bastards' and use expletives one prefers not to record. It is delightful to see her begin like that, incurring extensive extra discipline. More delightful still when, Noreen's bottom well-patterned but the drama still only beginning, there is pleading and promising, turning soon to wild shrillness and unimaginable vulgarities. Noreen, the modern girl, offers extreme possibilities to a disciplinarian!
I could not resist asking Mr Brown about the photograph. He smiled and inquired if I believed in ghosts. I do not, and said so. But I agreed when he said that one might believe in family likenesses. Noreen was descended from the vision in the sepia photograph, he told me, another female bumpkin who had worked at Hollingsworth House in her day and tasted similar corrections.
He was about to tell me more. From the way the smile played on his lips, I guessed what it was before he spoke. He knew, of course, of my passionate interest in Noreen. He had seen the full-plate photographs of her face in varying moods, the dozen camera-portraits of Noreen's bottom in varying conditions and postures, which grace my study wall. He knew my eagerness to see her over trestle or stool. There can be magic in a name, he said. I had picked out not only a likeness – there were several of those – but the very girl of the past who had a similar character and whose name was also Noreen.
Happy New Year!