When beautiful Violet Plover is forced to take a job as downstairs maid to support her ailing father, she resigns herself to a life of drudgery. But a chance to catch a glimpse of her enigmatic employer becomes a turn of fortune when he decides Violet’s spirit and uncanny athleticism can be put to better use.
Lord Hardcastle’s wealth allows him to live an unorthodox life as a magician, hobnobbing with the likes of Harry Houdini as he wows audiences all over Europe. Taking Violet as his assistant means investing hours of training, and demanding complete obedience to his will. And while Lord Hardcastle may have an unconventional profession, he is very conventional in his views on discipline. As a schoolboy, he endured the cane and considers it a useful tool for the correction of his headstrong assistant.
As Violet’s training progresses, her existence literally becomes a balancing act between her life as a commoner and her growing romantic role in Lord Hardcastle’s life. Will their relationship fail? Or will this strict, wealthy aristocrat effect the biggest transformation of his career by turning a scullery maid into Lady Harcastle?
This romantic Victorian romp features a sweet storyline and lots of punishment sure to appeal to fans of British discipline!
"All staff to greet his Lordship’s carriage are to go to the front steps now!" bellowed Dawkins, the butler.
Violet Plover continued scrubbing the kitchen hearth, trying not to mind that the presence of a mere scullery maid such as herself would not be required.
The household staff was assembling in front of Devonshire House, Lord Hardcastle’s impressive Bloomsbury residence, ready to welcome him home after his three?month tour. Most of the staff, at any rate. Violet had been working at the grand house for two months. She started while Lord Hardcastle was away and had yet to see the household operate during his residence. Not that it would make much difference to her work, she conceded to herself. As the lowest ranking member of staff, she would be utterly beneath the notice of His Lordship.
The kitchen fairly buzzed with excitement as the servants adjusted their uniforms and headed to the front steps. Violet wished she could be among them. She would have loved to catch a glimpse of the man she now worked for.
Of course, she had seen his likeness on posters and in the illustrated papers plenty of times. James Hardcastle was widely known throughout Europe as the Marvellous Marvelo. He was a famous stage illusionist and quite the celebrity.? Violet’s acquaintance with the Marvellous Marvelo wasn’t just from reading about him in the press, however.? Last year, she had spent a wonderful few months working as a dresser at the Old Mo, the Middlesex Theatre in Drury Lane where the Marvellous Marvelo was performing and had tried to catch glimpses of his act whenever she could.
On one memorable occasion, she had actually met him. Violet had been backstage collecting costumes from the dressing rooms so they could be brushed and mended in time for the next show. As she passed the largest dressing room, she heard the unmistakable sound of someone calling for assistance. She opened the door and was surprised to see the Marvellous Marvelo standing there, his arms secured around his body by a padlocked straightjacket.
"Wonderful," he said as Violet entered the room. "My dear, I wonder if you would be so good as to assist me. I’ve dropped the key between the dressing table and the armoire. Would you be able to retrieve it, do you think? Will your arm fit down there?"
Violet was thin and had no difficulty fitting her arm into the gap. She retrieved the key and took it over to the Marvellous Marvelo, but he stopped her as she made to open the padlock.
"No, no, no. Between the teeth, please. I need to pick this up from where I left off."
Violet put the key into his mouth, unable to prevent herself from staring into his eyes as she did so. They were a smoky grey colour, framed by long brown lashes. His hair was dark brown and slightly longer than was fashionable, and rather dishevelled. She watched, fascinated, as he undid the padlock using his teeth and then wrestled himself out of the straitjacket. It was like her own private show. When he had freed himself entirely, she applauded. The Marvellous Marvelo looked gratified and took a bow.
"Many thanks, my dear lady. I don’t know what I would have done without your assistance. I thought it best to learn some basics of escapology as Mr. Houdini has ensured that it is all anyone wants to see these days. I believe I have learnt the most important rule already: Don’t practise on your own or you could wind up looking very silly indeed."
Violet giggled. "Well, sir," she said daringly, "if you ever need any further assistance, I am always available."
He gave her a swift bow. "Much obliged."
There hadn’t been the chance to offer any further assistance, as it turned out. The very next day, there had been the terrible fire at her father’s forge and Violet’s career at the theatre had to be abandoned so that she could take care of him.
And now she was here. At nineteen, she was ridiculously old to be starting a life in service. Her Uncle Rory had gotten her the position by calling in a favour, and Violet had been happy enough to take it. The wages were good and all her living expenses were taken care of, which meant that ? once she had paid for her uniform ? she could send everything she earned back home.
She was finding it hard to be away from her family. Her mother had died when she was little and her father, Tom Plover, and his younger sister, Violet’s Aunt Eliza, had raised her.
Eliza had married Rory, a Master Carpenter at the Old Mo. He and Eliza now had a young and growing family ? Violet’s two beloved cousins, Conor and Tommy and a third child on the way.? Eliza had elected to take care of her older brother since the accident, but they needed Violet’s income to do it. Violet scrubbed the hearth with fresh vigour, determined to work as hard as she could. She wouldn’t let anyone down.
This was certainly no time to slack. His Lordship was bringing back several visitors with him who would be dining at the manor tonight and staying over in the guest rooms. The entire household was awash with fevered activity after the relative quiet of keeping an empty house for three months.
Violet was grateful for the job and found most of the household staff welcoming and helpful ?? especially the parlour maid, Franny, with whom Violet shared a tiny bedroom. Franny had taken Violet under her wing, having worked in service since she was fifteen and previously served her time as a scullery maid. Franny had shown Violet what she needed to do and had been sympathetic on the occasions when Violet, homesick, aching and exhausted beyond measure had needed a comforting shoulder to cry on. Not that Violet was usually miserable. Far from it. Violet was, by nature, a positive person, and she was pleased to find in Franny someone who shared her sense of humour and happy outlook. The girls enjoyed one another’s company ? whether they were spending a spare couple of minutes in His Lordship’s garden or gossiping together while they polished the silverware.
Most of Franny’s conversation was about Albert Jenkins, a fellow employee of Lord Hardcastle’s with whom Franny was stepping out. Violet liked Albert. He was a kind, openhearted lad and she was glad that Franny liked him so well.
There was no time for such gossip today, of course. There was far too much work to be done.
Violet heard the servants returning to their duties, having welcomed Lord Hardcastle on the steps of the manor. There was excited chatter as the cook and the kitchen maids walked past her on the way to the kitchen.
"I can scarcely believe it," said one. "Harry Houdini, himself, dining here! What do you suppose he likes to eat?"
"Well, he’s a Yank, isn’t he? I thought Americans just ate steak."
"’E’ll get what I’m serving to the other guests," sniffed the cook. "I don’t care ‘ow famous ‘e is. I’ve not been told any other arrangements."
They were hurrying as they spoke and soon out of earshot. When Franny walked by, Violet grabbed the hem of her skirt. "Is it true?" she asked. "About Mr. Houdini being here?"
Franny grinned and nodded.
"Is he staying here long?"
"Nah. His Lordship’s got a dozen or so friends here for dinner, but most of them’ll not be staying the night. We’ve prepared rooms for a couple of them. Jack Stevens ? you know the songwriter ? and Mr. Galloway who runs the Alhambra theatre. Houdini and the rest have their carriages waiting."
Violet tried not to be star?struck, but she couldn’t help but be impressed by the famous guests upstairs. Having a master who worked in the theatre made for more interesting dinner parties than your usual Lord, she thought to herself.
"Houdini looks just like his posters, you know," continued Franny. "All mad hair and wild piercing eyes. Of course, if he’d’ve been wearing a bathing suit and handcuffs then he’d’ve looked even more like his pictures."
"And Lord Hardcastle?"
"Well, he wasn’t wearing a bathing suit and handcuffs neither."
"No, you dolt. How did he look?"
"Dreamy. He’s got them beautiful big eyes. I swear he looks like the handsome prince out of a picture book."
"Watch yourself. You look as though you’re going to swoon." ?Violet giggled.
Franny batted her friend good?naturedly. "Ever such a gent he is, too. Said he was delighted to be home. It’s a shame you couldn’t be there."
The appearance a moment later of Mrs. Davenport, the stern Housekeeper, was enough to send Violet and Franny scurrying back to their respective duties. Franny didn’t like to admit to being terrified of Mrs. Davenport, but she was.
By the next day, Violet could hardly stand it. Almost all the guests had been and gone without her being able to catch so much as a glimpse. She had been kept exceedingly busy scrubbing pots and pans first for dinner, then for this morning’s breakfast and now for the luncheon that was currently being served upstairs to Lord Hardcastle and his two remaining guests. It was remarkable, she thought wryly, how many pots and pans could be required to feed three men.
Franny came into the scullery to deposit a tray of crockery to be washed. She turned to leave before Violet grabbed her skirt. "So Franny," she asked. "How is his Lordship this afternoon?"
Franny beamed wickedly. "Oh, he’s a sight for sore eyes and no mistake. Coo, I think I’m going to faint clean away every time I catch a glimpse of those big grey eyes of his. Those theatre posters don’t do him justice, you know."
"Are they all still in the dining room?"
"They were a moment ago ? just having a nip of brandy. I’m bringing down the last few things now."
Violet was struck by an idea. "Let me go instead. Please?"
"Let me go and collect the last of the lunch things. It won’t take a moment. I’ve not had a chance to see his Lordship in the flesh since he got back."
"But Mrs. Davenport?"
"Won’t ever need to know. Oh go on, please, Franny?"
Franny grinned. "Oh all right then. It seems a shame to keep the lovely Lord Hardcastle to myself."
Franny removed the starched white apron she wore over her uniform and handed it to Violet, who put it on eagerly.
"If anyone asks," said Franny, "I shall say that you wrestled me to the ground and took it by force. Now go in there and clear any lunch things that are not being used. Don’t talk to his Lordship unless he addresses you first. Don’t even make eye contact."
"Don’t fret," said Violet, tucking loose strands of hair into her mobcap. "He won’t even notice I’m there."
Violet entered the dining room and was disappointed to see that the gentlemen had already removed themselves. She sighed and set to work clearing up the plates and brandy glasses from the table. There was a large covered platter amongst the crumpled napkins and cigar dibs. She wondered if it had been there since the main course. It seemed unlikely; Violet could not see why it would have still have been required on the table while the gentlemen enjoyed their brandy and cigars. She lifted the lid.
A small white dove immediately flew out from beneath the covering. Violet gave a startled scream as it almost collided with her face. The bird flew off and headed to the highest shelf on the Welsh dresser that stood next to the dining table.
"Oh fuck, fuck, fuck," said Violet. "Come here, you little bastard." She quickly leapt to the dresser and, hooking her skirt up to her knees, clambering up the shelves of the dresser in order to reach it. The dove seemed underwhelmed by her antics. It watched her impassively, its head cocked to one side.
Violet’s words may have been coarse, but her movements were exceedingly gentle as she reached towards the bird, brushing her hand against its feet. She breathed a sigh of relief as the dove hopped onto her hand and allowed itself to be carried back down to the table. It was clearly a well?trained little creature and it hopped back onto the platter when Violet laid her hand against it. She replaced the cover swiftly and smoothly.
"Right, that’s you sorted, you little shit," she said.
As she looked up, her heart sunk like a stone. The room was not empty at all. Lord Hardcastle and his two guests, Galloway and Jack Stevens, were standing close to an alcove in which there was a bookcase and where, presumably, they had been standing, hidden from view, when Violet had entered the room. All three gentlemen were looking at her. One of the guests, a large man with muttonchops had an unpleasant smile on his lips where the other ? who Violet recognised as the songwriter, Jack Stevens ? looked as though as he was trying to suppress a laugh. Lord Hardcastle’s expression was unreadable.
Violet was almost too shocked to do anything at all. She pulled herself together just enough to squeak, "Oh my!" ??Then she fled from the room.
She was found by Dawkins fifteen minutes later hiding in the scullery, crying. Violet wondered if she should have packed her things already. She had no doubt that she would be dismissed immediately for her behaviour in the dining room.
"His Lordship would like to see you in his study," said Dawkins.
Violet pressed her eyes hard with the heel of her hand in an attempt to stop the tears. Surely this wasn’t the usual procedure, she thought. She had expected to be sent away by Dawkins. His Lordship need not trouble himself with the hiring and firing of his staff.
"I’m so sorry," she said. "I didn’t realise…"
Dawkins interrupted. "I’m sure it wouldn’t do to keep his Lordship waiting," he said, briskly turning on his heel and walking from the scullery to the kitchen, which led to the main part of the house.
Violet followed hurriedly, attempting to tidy her hair and wipe her tear?streaked face as she went. The walk through the kitchen was interminable. The other servants openly watched her and she knew they were trying to piece together what had happened, having seen her run through the kitchen earlier in tears. Did they know Lord Hardcastle himself had summoned her?
Violet followed Dawkins through the house, trying not to think that this might be the last time she had the opportunity to do so. She could see through the big bay window in that hall that Lord Hardcastle’s guests’ carriages were leaving the grounds of Devonshire House.
They reached the study. Dawkins knocked and opened the door when Lord Hardcastle permitted them to enter.
Violet had stopped crying. She knew she looked dreadful, but pulled herself up straight regardless, determined to make the best of it. Snivelling wasn’t going to help, she thought. Or maybe it would. She wasn’t sure. She realised that she was determined to do whatever it took to keep her job.
Lord Hardcastle rose from behind his desk as Dawkins and Violet entered the room.
"Thank you, Dawkins. That will be all."
If Dawkins was ruffled by this instruction, he didn’t show it. It was, of course, a butler’s job to remain unruffled.
"Very well, my Lord." Dawkins bowed slightly and exited the room, leaving Violet alone with Lord Hardcastle.
Lord Hardcastle turned to Violet. "Very well," he said. "To business. Your name’s Violet Plover, is that correct? I understand that you have been in my service for two months."
"Yes, my Lord," Violet replied. Her nervousness rendered her throat so dry that she could barely speak at all. Was that a sufficient response? Should she provide more information when addressing a lord or speak as little as possible? She honestly had no idea. Much as she had been warned that Lord Hardcastle was highly irregular compared to other men of his station, she hadn’t imagined that a scullery maid such as herself would have to interact with his Lordship face to face. Certainly not this soon. Ah well, it hardly mattered now. She fully expected to be fired without a reference and doubted she would need to interact with the nobility again.?
"Well, Violet," continued Lord Hardcastle, oblivious to Violet’s internal panic. "Firstly, I want to thank you for the swift way you dealt with my escaped dove. I should not have left her on the table like that and it was understandable that you disturbed her. You dealt with the recapture very professionally. I was impressed. She is a trained bird and very valuable. I should have hated to see her injured or upset. Thank you."
Violet stared at Lord Hardcastle in shock. This was not what she had anticipated.
"However," Lord Hardcastle continued. "There are standards of behaviour ? and of course, language ? we uphold to in this house. I reserve the right to entertain visitors in my own home without them being subjected to the kind of words that would shock a sailor."
Violet’s heart sunk once more. "I am very sorry, my Lord," she mumbled.
"I am sure you are," responded Lord Hardcastle. "I am also sure you are a valuable member of staff here. I have no desire to terminate your employment over this incident. However, you will be punished."
"Yes, my Lord."
"I’ll offer you the choice, Violet. Either you can forfeit a day’s wages or submit to a spanking."
Violet’s head was a confusion of different emotions. While she was elated that she still had a job, she was truly terrified at the prospect of being physically punished by Lord Hardcastle, but what choice did she have? She could not afford to lose a day’s wages; her family was relying on her.
?"I will take the spanking, my Lord."
"Very well," Lord Hardcastle replied. He walked to the corner of the room and to Violet’s wide?eyed horror, removed a long thin cane from the umbrella stand.
"Bend over the desk," he instructed.
Violet walked to the desk; her body felt as though it were full of lead. She was shaking so much that her teeth were chattering. She leant over the wide desk as instructed.
"Hold on to the far edge," said Lord Hardcastle.
She gripped the edge of the desk and turned her face to the side. Lord Hardcastle laid the cane on the desk and stood behind her. Violet hardly had time to wonder why he had put the cane down before she felt the sharp sting of Lord Hardcastle’s hand as it struck her buttocks. The covering of her skirt and petticoat offered her some protection, but she could still feel the force of the blow that left her bottom feeling red?hot.
Lord Hardcastle then continued with a volley of swats to her rear, covering every square inch of her bottom so that her backside smarted from the very top to the crease at the bottom where her buttocks met her thighs. Violet had managed not to scream or move from her position across his desk. Tears were running freely down her face as her bottom throbbed in pain.
She realised his Lordship had stopped spanking and thought for one glorious moment that the punishment might be over. Then out of the corner of her eye, she saw him lean across and pick up the cane.
"You are doing very well, Violet," said Lord Hardcastle. "Four strokes of the cane and then it will be over."
Four strokes? How bad can it be?
The first cut of the cane answered that question. It whistled through the air and landed at the highest part of Violet’s buttocks, hitting both cheeks with an almost unbearable force.? It took all of Violet’s strength not to leap from the desk and hop around the study in agony.? She would not, she vowed to herself. His Lordship had offered her the chance to redeem herself and she was determined not to jeopardise it. She steeled herself for the next stroke of the cane, which came down quickly an inch below the first. Her bottom throbbed so much that it felt like it had its own pulse. The pain was excruciating. The third stroke hit just below the second one. Violet sobbed into Lord Hardcastle’s desk as she continued to grip it tightly. Lord Hardcastle took a step back in order to administer the last stroke of the cane. She heard the cane whistle through the air for the fourth time and then it hit the delicate part of her buttocks just above her legs. Every stroke of the cane had made its mark on her backside through the fabric of her maid’s uniform. Violet felt them just as keenly as if they had been applied directly to the skin itself.
"You took your punishment well," said Lord Hardcastle. "Well done. You may get up now." He walked across the room and rang a small bell attached to the wall. Violet hadn’t moved from her position across the desk. Her tears were still flowing freely and the pain in her throbbing buttocks made her disinclined to move at all. "Violet, I have called Dawkins to come and collect you and take you back downstairs. I suggest that you get up now as you may not want him to see you in your current position."
Violet stood as directed and once again tried to wipe her tears with the heel of her hand. Lord Hardcastle passed her his handkerchief.
When Dawkins arrived, Lord Hardcastle spoke to him directly. "Violet and I have spoken. Rest assured the matter is now resolved. No further admonishments are required regarding the matter."
"Of course, my Lord," replied Dawkins.
"I believe you told me that Violet is currently a scullery rather than upstairs maid, and that she wouldn’t normally be clearing up the dining room?"
"That is correct, sir," replied Dawkins. "Apologies, there were… extenuating circumstances."
"Not at all, not at all." Lord Hardcastle waved away Dawkins’ apology. "I think Violet is eminently well suited to upstairs work. Please ensure that she is promoted to parlour maid immediately and that this is reflected in her weekly wage packet."
"Very good, my Lord."
Violet followed Dawkins downstairs, her mind reeling.
On the one hand, she had just received the most brutal correction of her life at the hands of Lord Hardcastle. The pain was like nothing she’d ever experienced before. Just walking down the corridor caused her petticoats to rub against her bruised bottom in a way that was almost unbearable. On the other hand however, Lord Hardcastle had made it clear that he did not retain any ill will; he had thanked her for recapturing his dove and most astounding of all, he had promoted her to parlour maid and ensured that she would get an increase in her salary to boot.
Despite the pain in her bottom, despite the humiliation of being bent over Lord Hardcastle’s desk and spanked and caned like a naughty schoolchild, Violet’s main feelings at that moment were of gratitude and relief.