Madeleine, page 1
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‘To the Wilderness’
The taxi battled with the traffic as it threaded its way through Knightsbridge, trying to reach Chelsea and the river. The passenger lay back, apparently relaxed, though inwardly subject to the electric tension she always experienced when, as now, she was about to meet a new client. Tall for a woman, with rich glossy hair that, unrestrained, fell between her shoulder blades in a wavy chestnut mane, but now was woven into a complex pleat, her green flecked eyes barely took in the congested evening world outside the cab, as she thought back to how her life had been transformed, only a few short months before.
Then, she had been working for one of the second division of the advertising world, Paragon Apex, which had made up for the paucity of its performance by the pretentiousness of its title. At twenty-eight, she had got as far as she could go, and the glass ceiling had closed over her head. She knew, and they knew, that she was the best creative person in the firm, and with organisational and personal skills to match, but that bunch of ‘good old boys’ was never going to let her join their ranks at the top table.
Oh, they had made gestures, when she had complained about lack of management responsibilities - and put her in charge of the secretarial pool, ‘because you’ll be all girls together’, as one of the oafs put it. And they’d given her Peter Silters, because everyone else was ashamed to have him on their staff, although the company couldn’t afford to do without his services. Peter was responsible for clients ‘special needs’, in other words a glorified pimp, supplying booze, girls and recreational drugs to keep the men with the power to place accounts happy. But that was as far as it went, she was never going to be given real management responsibility, or be allowed to deal directly with potential clients, and a seat on the board was out of the question, now or at any time, however distant.
Until the day the headhunters came for her.
It all started with a call out of the blue from George Lloyd, who was with Personnel Assets, and said he had something that might just interest her, and could they have lunch. Any other man, she would have taken the approach as blatant propositioning, and told him where to put his something interesting, but Personnel were the best known hunters in the City, and she thought she’d give him a chance. He did have something for her, an indirect approach from Helworthy, Bellman Associates, otherwise known as ‘Hell’s Bells’, the most thrusting up-and-coming agency in London, and tipped to become world class within a few years.
Several lunches later, and a meeting with two of the principals, and she was looking at an offer she couldn’t refuse. Her own team, direct responsibility for meeting new clients, and clinching new accounts, and the prospect of a partnership within five years if she was as good as they believed her to be.
“Don’t jump before you’ve thought about it,” they said, “come back in a week, and we’ll have the service contract drawn up for you to sign.”
She’d gone back to Paragon, and told them she was taking a week of the accumulated leave she’d never got around to using, thrown some clothes into a case, and pointed her little GT hatchback towards the north.
Her mind was full of conflicting emotions. Excitement, anticipation, pride at being sought out and chosen, but also doubts. Not particularly about her ability, although the job was far more demanding than her present post, but did she really want to go even further into the rat race? The treadmills only got bigger, they led no further in the end than the small wheels, and there was further to fall. Besides, did she really want to spend the rest of her life in a world of baked beans and toilet tissue, soap powder and sanitary towels? There was something missing in her life, and she was going to the wilderness to think it out, before she hurled herself, unthinking, down the slippery slope of the advertising racket.
She stayed the night in a Posthouse near Glasgow, and pressed on in the morning, seeking the wilder parts of the west coast, where the sea lochs bite into the land like cuts from an axe in the trunk of a tree. Evening found her far from anywhere on the rocky shore of a deep inlet where the last of the setting sun, picked out an islet in the loch, and on its low summit, the ruins of a gaunt tower. She turned off the road onto an apology for a track to where she could sit, concealed in a knot of pines, but with a view of the water and the little island. As she sat and ate the sandwiches she had brought, and poured coffee from a flask, she watched the light fade, and the ruined tower become a black lifeless shadow, just visible against the gleam of the water. It was too late to go on and look for a room, she decided, she would drop down the seats to form a crude bed, and curl up under the rug she always carried. So far off the beaten track, and concealed by the thicket of pines, what harm could come to her? It was a warm summer’s night, and the car would give her good shelter.
She woke to the dawn, and the light picking out the tower from the east. As she made a breakfast from the last of her coffee and sandwiches, she studied the islet and its ruin. Some haunt of sea raiders and pirates long ago, she thought, but deserted now: she’d not seen a light the evening before. It was about a quarter mile from the shore, an excellent moat but easily crossed by a swimmer.
She left the car and squatted in the bushes to relieve the morning’s pressures, then rose and looked again at the islet. That would be her hermit’s cell where she could think out her problem, naked and alone, as cut off from the world as if on the moon. She pulled her tee shirt over her head. At work she wore a bra, to coax her outline into a form proper for business and, in particular, to curb her exuberant, and over-easily excited, nipples from thrusting through her blouse. On holiday she left her breasts free, for they were firm, and not over large, and now they stood bare to feel the slight caress of the fresh clean air around her, the large pink teats responding by swelling slightly at the day’s adventure. She’d discarded her jeans and trainers for comfort on her makeshift bed, and her socks and cotton knickers soon joined her watch and earrings on the floor of the locked car. The keys went under a nearby rock; she was taking nothing of her present life with her, as she set off to find out what it was she truly wanted.
She ran on bare toes across the turf to the water’s edge. The sea was still, with hardly a ripple, and almost warm against the slight chill of the air on her naked body, before the sun had warmed the day. She struck out for the islet and its deserted ruin with steady strokes, which soon bore her to her target. She winced at the shingle under her bare feet where she landed, but soon found soft turf again and threw herself down in the gathering warmth of the now climbing sun.
As its growing strength warmed her body, drying her long glowing mane, she thought about the dilemma she had come to resolve. What was her problem? Most young women of her age would be ordering champagne, and ringing their friends to boast of their good fortune, or their just reward for their talent and hard work, so why was she lying naked on a deserted islet in the most remote part of the kingdom, unable to relax and enjoy the direction her life was taking?
Because there was something missing in it, that was why. Because promoting sanitary protection and family deodorants was not going to be enough. But surely it wasn’t the products, it was the people and the power and the status? True, but she couldn’t make that into a complete and satisfying whole in her mind either.
Was it just sex? Did she need a man to make her complete? She’d had many men, but none had lasted long. Some h
Round and round she went, stretched naked on the grass, her hands behind her head, and her legs parted, to let the sun caress her breasts and vulva, but understanding still escaped her. As the day wore on, she became aware that she had eaten nothing since her early breakfast. The lack of food did not worry her, at the office she often skipped lunch altogether, and did not eat until the evening, but she’d always had coffee or tea several times a day and now she was getting thirsty. She put her unproductive thoughts to one side, and set off to explore the islet.
Not far off she found a tumble of brambles with the blackberries just ripening. At the cost of several scratches to her thighs, and the odd thorn in her foot, she picked a handful before abandoning the dangers to her vulnerable bare flesh to explore further. She soon realised that the brambles grew along a ruined wall that once protected a garden, or at least an orchard, for here were old, gnarled fruit trees, and on one, at least, were ripe apples. She picked a couple and, standing under the tree eating, felt as Eve must have done in the garden, with a strange sense of guilt, as if she had broken some dread commandment, and dire consequences would ensue.
Her thirst partially satisfied, she set off again to explore: her path led her towards the tower. Close to it was quite a bit larger than she had thought from the shore. She climbed the slope to the arch, where the great gate must once have hung. Inside, she stood on ancient flags, with grass growing in the cracks, for the tower was roofless.
She stood for a moment, turning her lithe naked form this way and that, as she looked up at the cliff like walls rising far above her, showing evidence of where the inhabitants had occupied three or four floors, now long gone, leaving empty windows and doorways.
But one doorway still retained a closure, a stout wooden door with heavy iron ring, low and squat, standing in a corner of the base of the tower, now open to the sky. Curiosity, that fatal weakness of females as well as felines, drew her to it, and to try the handle, which turned easily in her hand. The temptation was too much, and in a moment the door was open, revealing a small chamber, lit by a tiny slit in one wall, and spiral steps, leading both up and down. She stepped inside, feeling the air cool on her naked skin and breasts. The door swung gently to behind her under its own weight, and closed with an audible click.
Since the slit gave sufficient light to see her way, she ignored the door for the time being, and set off to climb the stair but, half way round the first turn, came up against an iron grille secured by a massy lock. She didn’t fancy wandering, naked and alone, into the dungeon, or whatever lay at the foot of the downward flight, and turned to the door to leave. But the door was fast, and there was no sign of a handle to open it from the inside. With the first feelings of panic coiling in her belly, she ran her hands over the surface, looking for some catch she’d overlooked but found none. There was a keyhole, bereft of key, but nothing that would serve to open the door and release her from what she now began to think of as a prison.
The panic spread its icy coils into her thighs and chest as she imagined being trapped here forever. The islet had shown no sign of life throughout her stay, no chink of light in the blackness of the night, no boat on the shore that she could see, although, granted, she had not circled the far side. Her car was carefully tucked away in the thicket of pines to deliberately make it unlikely that anyone passing on the road might see it and investigate. In any case, she had not been aware of any traveller passing that way for an evening, a night and a morning, so there was little hope there.
She fought down the icy beast in her guts and tried to act sensibly. A further visit to the obstruction on the rising stair showed that it, too, was immovable so that left only the downward path unexplored. As soon as she turned the first bend, and moved away from the meagre light from the slit, she was aware of a faint light below. Another turn and she was at its source, another squat, thick door, but this one open a few inches, letting out a shaft of bright light.
But this was no daylight, this was too soft a gold for sunlight. There must have been someone here recently if, indeed, they were not here at this moment. Suddenly she re-awoke to the fact that she was naked. Well, there was no help for it, she would have to investigate if she wished to get out of this imprisonment. She stepped forward and gently pushed the door open a few inches, to peer inside.
“You took your time getting here,” said a deep male voice with a strong Scots accent, and nothing particularly welcoming in its tone. “I expected you long ago, but now you’re here, come in and shut the door.”
Doubly conscious now of her bare flesh, she shrank back. Before she could formulate any explanation, and ask for something to cover herself before she entered the light, the voice roared out, in a tone that would not be denied.
“Get yourself inside, woman - NOW!”
She got. She found herself in a vaulted stone chamber. The light came from a modern camping gas lantern hung from a hook on one wall but, at the far end, slanting shafts led up to the courtyard to let in air and a little daylight. The other source of light was a wood fire that burnt brightly in a large fireplace which took up the greater part of the wall to her left. The opposite wall was pierced by half a dozen small arched openings, like those of a dog kennel, but closed by grilles of iron.
The room was sparsely furnished, a large, crude oak cupboard, a smaller cupboard, a large chest, a trestle, and a bench, set at a heavy table, but the feature that held her attention was the man sitting on the bench, his boots stretched out towards the fire, a mug of something in his hand, a book on his knee, and a thin leather covered switch by his elbow on the table. He watched her enter his sanctum.
He was big and wide, a little fleshy, with wild red hair and beard, dressed in denim jeans tucked into leather boots, and a rather grubby white T-shirt which revealed his muscular neck and arms, the latter covered in a finer version of the red thatch on his head.
“There’s little point in your trying to cover yourself,” he said, as she crossed her arms on her chest, “seeing that I’ve been watching you all morning, and know every crease in your bum and each wrinkle in your nipples, so put your hands by your sides, and stand up straight when I’m talking to you.”
She did: it seemed the natural thing to do, and he went on.
“And your tits and bum are not the only things I saw either. I saw you stealing fruit from the orchard.”
She opened her mouth to explain and, perhaps, ask forgiveness.
“Shut up!” he roared, “you’ll only speak here when given permission! Is that clear?” Dumbly she nodded.
“Do you know what this place is?” he asked and, not daring to speak, even though asked a direct question, she shook her head this time. “It’s called the Isle of Tears or, sometimes, the Isle of weeping women. The tower was the home of sea brigands, my family’s ancestors they were, and no woman came here as wife or mistress, only as slave. That’s where they were housed,” he boomed, waving a hairy hand at the row of kennels, “unless they had been taken upstairs to work, or warm someone’s bed. There’s no upstairs now, so you’ll live in the kennel, when you’re not working.”
“I’m not -” she began, but his bellow stopped her short.
“Shut up! You’ve been warned once and you’ll pay for that later. As I was saying you’ll live in a kennel, and you’ll work and toil, like the slave you made yourself, by coming to my island uninvited, and your theft of my fruit.”
It didn’t seem worthwhile protesting. It would obviously make no difference and, anyway, her will to resist had ebbed away in some mysterious manner, leaving her bending to his will. He was speaking again.
“Before we go any further, you’ll settle your account for speaking out of turn, and learn that it doesn’t pay on my island for a slave to f
“Stand here,” he ordered, pointing to a spot on the flagged floor just in front of him.
Trembling from a mixture of fear and excitement, she obeyed.
“Six of the best, as the Sassenach say,” he pronounced, “bend and touch your toes and don’t get up till I say so, or you’ll regret it.”
Like an automaton, she advanced into the room and bent where the switch had pointed. Her body did as it was ordered, with no conscious effort on her part. She stood with bare toes slightly separated, bent from the waist, put fingers to toes, stretching the pale gold skin of her smoothly rounded buttocks, stayed, taut and obedient, awaiting its fate. Her mind stood outside and observed her own reactions, wondered at her own submissiveness, speculated about how much it was going to hurt, and if she could take it.
Six of the best with that cruel looking instrument! She had no idea what it would be like, had never been beaten before, but she was going to find out now. Schoolboys, and schoolgirls come to that, traditionally got six of the best, and it was meant to be for the good of their souls, though they were reputed to be unable to sit after, for a day or so, so it must hurt and go on being sore for a long while after. They were not meant to cry out, bad form and all that, and getting up before they’d had their dose would get extra, or even another six.
The air behind her parted with a whirring noise and a lancing flame leapt up in her buttocks. Mind and body came together again to try and cope with the terrible visitation. Stay down, stay down, her will commanded, but body squealed in protest, and then groaned, a long drawn out naaaaargh, as the first sharp cutting pain was overtaken by a wave of pure agony that rolled in, washing over her whole consciousness. Mind won, but it was a close thing, and she waited, bottom halves clenching in fearful anticipation, for the next cut.