Lady Westbrook's Discovery (3 page)

BOOK: Lady Westbrook's Discovery
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“Certainly. We take that sort of thing very seriously around here. There will be whole tents full of enormous vegetables to impress you.”

“I trust the entrants are
fiercely
competitive. Almost obsessively so?”

“Of course. Mr Fotherington and Mr Dodds almost came to blows last year during the judging of the Largest Onion prize. The difference of opinion was,
I believe, whether any part of the root can be counted in its overall length.”

“And was any satisfactory conclusion reached?”

“The judges decided that the entire bottom root needed to be removed. It most upset Mr Dodds, who said that removing it destroyed the aesthetic appeal of his onions. Mr Fotherington, unfortunately, wasn’t very gracious in his victory. It was quite a drama as I’m sure you can imagine.”

Felix laughed. “And are the two gentlemen in question exhibiting this year?”

“Mr Dodds has foresworn onions for all time, I believe. Although we expect to see his cabbages and broccoli entered in their respective classes. If you do meet him, I implore you to keep off the topic of the aesthetic properties of onions.”

“I shall try
, but I am not promising anything. I find that the aesthetic properties of onions work their way into most every conversation I have.”

Margaret laughed. “There is that, of course. Do you think the Waverley fete will be able to hold a candle to Rochester’s then?”

“It certainly sounds promising. My favourite event at the Rochester fete was the schoolboy races. The sons of the farmers and the sons of the gentlemen would race against one another in the village square. It was always the most popular event with a massive turnout. I always thought that the adults were just keenly interested in our accomplishments; it wasn’t until years later that I discovered it was quite the sporting event of the calendar. The local police constable used to run a book on all the racers and quite substantial amounts of money would change hands. Even the vicar was involved. He always seemed especially fond of me when I was a lad. Turns out his fond regard came as a result of winning a small fortune when I came first in the 1854 race at odds of fifteen to one.”

“Fifteen to one?” asked Margaret. “Why such long odds? Did you parade badly in the paddock?”

“I think you may not be according the sport the gravitas it deserves,” said Mr Oliver with mock sternness. “The odds were based on competitors’ participation in school rugby and cricket. Being both a swot and - as you pointed out - a bit of a dandy, I avoided organised games as much as possible. Hence the long odds. What Constable Pemberton had overlooked was the fact I was a boy with seven older brothers. Believe me; I was very good at running.”

“I’m afraid we don’t have any schoolboy races at Waverley. However, if you do feel like a flutter, I believe that Colonel Huffington is offering odds on the pig races at Bockett’s farm.

Five days later, the festivities were over
, and all but one of Lady Westbrook’s guests had departed.

Felix worried vaguely that he might be overstaying his welcome by staying on an extra night.
But Lady Westbrook had seemed genuinely delighted to have him stay. He reassured himself that she was a formidable enough woman to let her displeasure be known if it were causing her an inconvenience. He resolved to enjoy his final evening with her as they stood together in the large conservatory enjoying the views of Westbrook Manor’s impressive gardens.

Felix took the proffered drink from Lady Westbrook and raised his hand in
a toast. “To the Waverley Fete,” he said. “Thank you so much for inviting me. I had the most marvelous time.” 

“The pleasure has been entirely mine. I hope you will come to visit often.
Unfortunately, I cannot promise that there will always be the excitement of yesterday’s pickle-making scandal to entertain you.”

Felix chuckled.  “Who knew that varieties of vinegar were such a hotbed of contention?  I should be delighted to visit you whenever you will have me, Lady Westbrook.  I am glad to have you as a friend.”

“And I you. Since you have put your ridiculous and unthinkable notion of courtship behind you and we can move on from that silliness...”

“Silliness?” said Felix before he could stop himself. Don’t say a word, he chided himself. You intended to come here as a friend not a suitor. He took a sip of his drink
and counted to ten. “Oh dash it all,” he said as he realised that he was just going to plough ahead anyway.

“Lady Westbrook,” he said
, “you put me in a difficult position. I had resolved not to do this as I had no wish to offend you further. But then you used words like ‘unthinkable’ and ‘silliness’, and I feel that I must speak up. I assure you that I was quite, quite serious. My feelings have not changed in that regard. In fact, our time together over the last few days has just served to convince me further that you are the person with whom I would wish to spend the rest of my life.”

Felix set down his drink and dropped to one knee in front of Lady Westbrook. She raised her hands to her mouth, her eyes widening in alarm.

“Lady Westbrook, would you do me the great honour of consenting to be my wife?”

Lady Westbrook stood speechless in front of him.

Well done, old man, he said to himself. You’ve really done it now. So much for deciding that you’d be happy to accept her friendship. She’ll probably never want to see you again after this.

“Are you serious?”
Lady Westbrook asked.

“I assure you I have never been more so.”

“Marriage?”

“Yes.”

“To me?”

“Of course.”

“But why?”

“Because I love you, of course.”

“But
marriage
.... it’s unthinkable.”

“Mm. You used that word before. I don’t find it unthinkable, at all. In fact I find it remarkably easy to think about. The thought of you becoming my wife is, I confess, something I think about rather a lot.”

“But it’s so ridiculous! You’re half my age.”

Felix laughed. “No I’m not. Call yourself an adherer of scientific methods? You should be a bit more exact in your mathematics, then. If you were twice my age, you would be 52 and you are a long way off that, still.”

Lady Westbrook started pacing around the conservatory in an agitated state. Felix stood from his kneeling position and watched as she took her handkerchief and twisted it anxiously between her fingers.


Forty-one or fifty-two, what difference does it make? I’m far too old for you. You should marry a young woman with whom you can start a family.”

“I have no wish to start a family. I am wholly indifferent to the idea of having children. Luckily, coming from a large family
myself, there is no expectation on me to produce an heir to the Earldom. I was already eighth in line for the position when I was born. My brothers’ ever increasing families have pushed me down to something like twenty-fifth
in the pecking order.  Even if by some extraordinary twist of fate my armies of brothers, nephews and nieces prove insufficient, my two sisters and their numerous children are right behind me. Believe me when I say that not having children will not be a problem.”

“Speaking of heirs, this is Robert’s home, you know. It’s the family seat and belongs to the current Lord Westbrook. To be honest, the idea of my moving out has never been discussed
, but I could hardly carry on living here with a new husband.”

“We’d find somewhere new to live. I am doing all right for myself, what with lectures and the books I’ve published.  I live well below my means at present. It might not be quite the splendour to which you’ve been accustomed
, but I think I could keep you very comfortably.”

“You would keep me? Of course, I must always rely on a man to keep me. First my father, then my husband, now my son. And next, you.”

Felix felt his heart lift a little at these words. She really did sound like she was considering the idea even if she was being belligerent about it.

“Do you not like my talking of keeping you? I could send you out to work to earn your keep if it would make you happier. And would vacating Westbrook Manor be so bad? Surely, Lord Westbrook will be taking a wife himself soon enough and will expect to move back here.”

“Well yes, I hadn’t planned to stay here once Robert returned from the army. I don’t want to move away entirely though. Waverley is my home.”

“I would be more than happy to live in Waverley
,” said Felix. “In fact, Colonel Huffington told me yesterday that he will be putting his house on the market as he intends to return to live in India. Would that house suit you?”


Oh it’s not just the house. The boys would be horrified by the idea of my marrying a man not much older than them. And what would other people in the neighbourhood say? There would be a scandal.”

She had paced to the end of the conservatory
, reached the back wall and turned round. Felix followed her there and they now stood face-to-face.  He put a steadying hand on each of her shoulders.

“I don’t believe for a moment that you are worried about what the busybodies of Waverley will think. Let them be scandalised.”

Lady Westbrook stood still; she had stopped frantically twisting her handkerchief. She stared back at him.

“I don’t
need
to get married,” she said quietly.

“No more do I. Let’s consider what we
want
instead.”

Their eyes remained locked for several minutes. It seemed to Felix that time had stopped entirely.

“Would you beat me if we were married?” she said.

“What?” Whatever he had been expecting her to say next, it wasn’t that.

“The first time we met, you told me that you thought it a good idea for men to spank their wives. You said that if I were your wife, you would spank me.”

“I haven’t forgotten.”

“Of course I thought you were speaking entirely rhetorically at the time. It’s funny how things turn out. So, tell me, would you expect physical discipline to be part of our marriage?”

Felix spoke quietly but without hesitation. “Yes I would.”

“Very well. Then before I can decide whether or not to accept your proposal, I need to understand precisely what I am letting myself in for.”

“You want to be spanked?”

“I need to know what to expect if you decide to punish me. I think the only way for me to ascertain that would be for you to carry out such a punishment this evening.”

Felix’s heart hammered in his ribcage. She had laid down a challenge and he was damned well going to be man enough to accept it.

“Very well,” he said. “But not here in the conservatory. Do you have a study?”

“I have my writing room.”

“That sounds ideal. Take me there.”

Margaret led the way, her conversation with Mr Oliver echoing round her head. Why had she suggested such a thing? Was she mad?

Her writing room was small but light and cheerful. It contained a few chairs and a desk in front of a large window overlooking the formal garden.

As soon as they entered, Mr Oliver turned the key in its lock so that the room was secured and popped the key into his waistcoat pocket. He removed his jacket and rolled his shirtsleeves up to his elbows. Margaret watched his movements
, transfixed. She still had no idea why she had made such a ridiculous suggestion. Was it curiosity? A challenge? Was she trying to find a reason to refuse him?

“Right,” said Mr Oliver. “You asked that I spank you as I would if we were married and you were being punished so I do not intend to be lenient. “

Margaret drew in her breath sharply.

“However,” he continued. “We are not man and wife so I will not punish you in the same manner that I would employ if we were. If we were married
, then you would be feeling these strokes on your bare bottom. As it is, you will have your skirts to give you some protection.”

Thank heavens for that, thought Margaret. She had not even considered the possibility of baring her bottom when she had suggested the spanking. She cursed her decision to wear a simple straight tea gown
, though. A bustle would have provided her so much more protection.

Mr Oliver moved some of the items on Margaret’s desk to one side so that there was an expanse of empty space in the middle. He picked up
a wooden ruler and smacked it ominously against his other hand.

“Lean over the desk,” he instructed her. “Stretch right across so that your hands are holding on to the far edge.”

Margaret did as she was directed. She rested her arms and head on the desk below the level of her bottom, which she raised in the air as though for inspection.

She wondered what would happen if she refused to
submit. Curiously, she found that she didn’t want to find out. As terrified as she was at the thought of a spanking, she was determined to go through with it.

Mr Oliver got into position behind her and brought the wooden ruler down on her bottom with great force. Margaret screamed out loud from the pain and from the shock of the impact. She had never been spanked before in her life. The pain was extraordinary. Mr Oliver brought the ruler down on her bottom a half dozen more times. Each stroke hit her bottom with a muffled thwack as
it connected with her skirts - the force of the blow ensuring that the impact was felt keenly on Margaret’s backside beneath.

BOOK: Lady Westbrook's Discovery
11.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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