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The Theft

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An early, if not the earliest story I wrote, recently recovered from an archaeological dig and transcribed by me into English from the original Akkadian cuneiform. Thanks to Tox for the reminder.



THE THEFT​

Catherine could barely walk for fear, so she was almost grateful for the bailiff's grip on her arm. He led her to the dock where she would stand alone before the court. She glanced back at her uncle and cousin and tried to smile. The Judge looked down on her from his bench. He picked up a paper, and glanced from her to the document and back again, as though reconciling the writing with the appearance.

"You are Catherine Channing."

"Yes Milord"

"Speak up girl!"

"Yes Milord, an it please the Court."

"Well, it doesn't please the Court, young missy. Here. . ." The judge waved the document in his hand, "It says that you were caught with items you had not paid for in your purse. Is this statement true or not?"

"It is Milord, but. . ."

"A piece of jewelry and a small brass cup. True or not?"

"I don't deny these things were found in my . . ."

"True or not?"

"True, milord."

"How did you advise her to plead, Counselor?"

Catherine's attorney was a large, paunchy man, a man long experienced in the ways of the Court. He had been hired by her uncle. He was dressed in his finest long coat and wig.

"I advised her of the evidence, your grace, and it was my advice that she appeal to the mercy of the Court. She is of good family, my Lord, visiting our fair city from her home in the country. She is by all accounts a modest and sober young lady and this is her first offense, if indeed she has committed this offense. She is so insistent upon her innocence, my Lord, that despite my years of experience, I am inclined to believe her. Her Uncle, Mr. Herbert Channing, a successful and well thought of man of business and his daughter, Amalie, are here to vouch for young Catherine."

Uncle Herbert and Amalie both stood.

The judge waved his hand in front of his face. "Very well, Counselor, I shall weigh your opinion with appropriate gravity. As for you, sir, and you, young lady, I am confident you are of upright and moral character. You are all dismissed."

The attorney made a deep bow and stepped into the aisle, shaking his head at Herbert Channing's and Amalie's questioning looks. He gestured to them to precede him to the door.

"Now, are you ready to admit your guilt, young woman?"

"Sir, I swear to you, as God is my witness. . ."

"Do not speak of God, you lying slut! I shall have you gagged!"

Catherine recoiled as though slapped.

"But Sir, I swear to you, God knows the truth I speak. . ."

"Bailiff,' roared the Judge, "Gag this shameless hussy!"

Catherine was pulled from the dock by one bailiff, who twisted her wrist up behind her back and got her in a choke hold from behind, while another ran to a side room where the gags were kept. It was not unusual in this court that prisoners, even occasionally witnesses or observers were silenced for speaking out of turn.

While the one bailiff held her, the other forced the wooden pear- shaped gag into her mouth. There was a handle protruding from the end, which the bailiff turned, spreading open the wooden sections of the pear, filling Catherine's mouth and spreading her jaws wide apart.. They shackled her wrists behind her and placed her back in the dock.

"I find you guilty of thievery and of falsely swearing before the court," the judge said. "Your counselor pleaded your good family and that this is your first offence. I find no mitigation in this, quite the reverse. Being of good family presumably you have been taught right from wrong. Being of good family, it is an obligation upon you to be an example to the lower classes, who have not your upbringing or opportunities. How can I sentence a woman to be flogged for stealing bread for her children, and let you off for your good name?"

Catherine tried to cry out through her pear, but the sound was effectively muffled by the awful device.

There was a murmur of approval from the crowd, most of whom had no business before the court, but were idlers with nothing more interesting to do.

The judge had become quite heated, and wiped his brow. "As to the fact that you have not appeared before me or my brother judges before, perhaps you simply have not been caught. Be that as it may, it is my determination to make of you an example, to so sternly chastise you that you shall repent of this behavior, and that you shall be an example to those young ladies who may entertain the notion of putting their good names at risk and shaming their families for trinkets, and to anyone who might swear their lies before God and this court."

There were a few murmurs of "Hear, hear," from the crowd, quickly silenced by the fierce glance of the judge.

"Therefore, it is the sentence of this court that you shall be taken from this place to the public square, there to be stripped to the skin, shaved and pilloried. The two shopkeepers from whom you stole will be allowed each ten strokes upon your bare buttocks in the name of the people. At the convenience of the bailiff you shall be taken from the pillory and stretched by your wrists at the whipping frame, there to receive one hundred lashes in the name of the king."

Catherine fell to her knees. The judges words roared in her ears. She gasped and cried in agony. The crowd gasped. This was indeed a very heavy sentence for so light a crime. Those in the last rows of the court began eagerly filing out to get a good spot around the platform at the public square.

"I am not finished with you, hussy," the judge said. "Stand her up."

The bailiffs pulled Catherine to her feet.

"You shall further be branded a thief and false swearer upon your breast. You shall then be remanded to the cells until your parents appear before this court to petition for your release. Bailiff, remove the prisoner."

Catherine stumbled in shock, but was half lifted, half dragged from the courthouse. It was not a long walk to the public square, where, even now, the sentences doled out earlier were being administered. These were the punishments for minor infractions, whippings for whoring, thieving, swearing, brawling. Already some of the stocks and pillories were occupied. Punishments for major infractions, the mutilations and hangings, took place later in the day. For the most part men and women were allowed no modesty, Their clothes were either sold or given to the poor.

The bailiff escorted Catherine up the stairs to the raised platform in the middle of the square. Against the slaps of whips and the cries and moans of those being punished, the bailiff shouted,

"This young lightfinger is to be stripped bare, shaved, pilloried, branded and whipped. Quite a price to pay for the trinkets she stole. She tried to sweet talk my Lord the Judge, but he doesn't have the ear for it. . ." Many in the crowd laughed, for they all knew the reputation of the judge, and not a few in the crowd had experienced his wrath.. "And now she doesn't have the words for it!"

That was the joke, and crowd laughed again. The bailiff considered himself a man of rough humor, and loved playing to the crowd.

"Right then," the bailiff turned to Catherine, and unshackled her wrists. "Take your clothes off. Every stitch. This can go hard or easy. Once you're naked I'll take out the pear. Now do as I say, girl."

Catherine didn't know if she could control her hands or fingers. She dropped to her knees, mutely pleading with the bailiff and the crowd. The bailiff reached down to her and unlaced her bodice, slapping her hands away as she tried to resist. Her body felt like so much dead weight. The crowd cheered as the bailiff wrenched down on the shoulders and collar of her dress, baring her to the waist. Catherine struggled as the bailiff pushed her down and jerked her skirts as though he were taking sheets off a bed. The skirts came off and now Catherine, panicked and clad only in pantaloons clutched her arms over her breasts and tried to get up to run. The bailiff grabbed the waist band of the pantaloons and jerked, pulling Catherine down and stripping her of her last clothes. The sounds she made were the indistinct grunts of pain and terror and exertion. Desperately she tried to cover herself with her hands.

She was not the only one winded. The bailiff was sweating and breathing hard as well as he secured her wrists behind her and then stood her up. He threw her clothes to the crowd. People eagerly scrabbled for them. They were of good quality, and had not been torn badly. They would fetch a fair price.

The crowd loved the brief struggle, shouting ironic encouragement to the girl and offers of help to the bailiff.

"Well, you've made it hard on me, and now I shall return the favor."

The bailiff grabbed a handful of Catherine's long blond hair and pulled her to the large wooden chair for her shaving. With the help of another he bound Catherine's ankles to the back legs of the chair, and drew her hands over her head and secured her wrists behind her neck to the back of the chair. Catherine's legs were splayed wide open and men in the crowd hooted with glee. The bailiff took sheep shears from a large wooden chest and began shearing her hair. He was careful about it, trying to cut as close as he could, for the hair was saved and sold to wig makers. Catherine wept and struggled as he sheared her, but began grunting with humiliation as he cut her pubic hair. He trimmed it with the shears, then produced a finer blade from his belt and proceeded to shave the mound of her sex with it. When he stood away, and revealed the bald femininity of the helpless girl, the crowd roared and whistled. Stropping the blade at intervals he shaved her armpits and arms and legs. Her hair was light and fine, but he scraped her thoroughly anyway. When he was finished her skin was red and nicked in places. He untied her wrists and ankles from the chair and led her to the pillory.
 

Jon Smithie

Governor
The Theft (cont.)

A naked woman was crouched in the device. He opened it, and kicked the woman away.

"Today's your lucky day hussy, I need this for someone more deserving than you!"

The woman had been in the pillory only an hour or so, but her body was wet with sweat. With a glance of pity at the younger woman, she left the platform covering herself as best she could.

The pillory was a yoke set between two posts, with ankle stocks attached in front. The bailiff fastened Catherine's ankles more than shoulder width apart in the ankle stocks. He untied her wrists, and made a sweeping, gallant gesture to the pillory.

"Milady," he said.

Catherine desperately pointed to the pear, but the bailiff shook his head.

"I'll take it off after you're in." he said

Catherine shook her head.

The bailiff appealed to the crowd. "The lady doesn't like her gag. Being a lady, I suppose, she wants to air her opinions. A woman, I hear, is like a bottle of wine. Should I uncork her?"

The crowd laughed and roared "No, leave it in, leave the cork in!"

"Well, then, how can I get her to cooperate with me, after all, I must offer her tit for tat."

"Or is it tat for tit?" He pretended to think. "I know, the cowbells! I'll offer her pretty music!"

The crowd cheered again as he brought two heavy cowbells from a large wooden chest that was taken to the platform on punishment days. They were ordinary cowbells except that instead of a ring at the end to attach to bossy's collar, these had clamps.

He showed them to Catherine.

"If you don't get in the pillory right now, I put these on your tits."

In desperation Catherine hugged her arms over her breasts, then shot her hands up to pull out the pear. She had the sudden, panicked urge that if she could just speak, just tell the bailiff and the crowd that she was innocent, they must believe.

The Bailiff snatched her hands away and tied them behind her again. Catherine could do nothing but moan. Another bailiff held her still.

"I told her this could go easy or hard." The bailiff shrugged. "She didn't believe me, well, I'm only trying to do my job!"

He screwed the clamps on Catherine's nipples, holding the first cowbell until he had the screw tight, then letting it drop against her ribs. It made a loud, unmusical clank. The effect on Catherine was apparent in her shocked writhing and twisting. She wept and grunted as he fixed the other bell to her other nipple.

Together the bailiffs forced Catherine's neck and wrists into the pillory, and locked it. Now Catherine was secured, leaning forward at waist height. But there was one other adjustment they made before they left her. The height of the pillory. They lowered it slowly, forcing Catherine into a lower and lower crouch. The strain on her thighs was awful. The only relief was by pushing up with her legs, elevating her buttocks even more, but this relief was as slight as it was temporary,

Catherine was left like that, her delicate wrists and slender neck trapped in the pillory, her ankles, spread wide apart, in the stocks. Her buttocks were lifted and splayed open, her sex and utterly exposed. The cowbells pulled on her breasts, the sensitive nipples gripped by the iron clamps. Her jaws ached wretchedly. She could do nothing but sweat and try to bear it. She could see only a few feet in front of her. She could turn her head and see something of the crowd, the faces laughing and jeering at her suffering. It hit her like a hammer blow that she had done nothing wrong. And that she would suffer far more before the end of the day.
 

Jon Smithie

Governor
The Theft (cont.)

The names of the shopkeepers were called, but neither was in the crowd. A boy was sent to tell them of the judges sentence.

"Take your time, boy," the bailiff called after him. "She'll wait."

Catherine had no idea how long she was in the pillory. Her body was on fire. She couldn't keep still from the pain of her cramped and strained position, but any movement caused her worse pain. It was becoming hard to breathe and hard to think. She panted, trying to draw in a full breath. Her mouth was dry, pried wide open as it was, her jaws throbbed. It felt like her nipples were hot coals, and her helpless writhings shot bolts of fire through her breasts.

Time stretched on. Her thighs quivered, and the horseflies had found her After several savage pinches as the insects fed on her back and thighs she could bear it no longer. With desperate strength she jerked and twisted, wrenching her hands and neck in their holes. The cowbells clanked as she struggled, drawing the attention of the bailiff.

By the time he approached her she was spent. Her body was streaked with sweat, and racked with pain.

"Becoming impatient, are we?" the Bailiff considered himself a man of rough humor, yes, a common man, like so many in the crowd. But a stern man. A man who knew right from wrong, a man who had no pity on those who had offended the King's order. He looked with contempt on this person, who had been a beautiful young woman earlier this morning, but was now nothing to him but a quivering, sweating suffering example of what it is to insult the King.

"Are your titties sore, young missy? Perhaps if I massage them?"

He turned both cowbells one quarter turn, horribly twisting her nipples. Catherine screamed into her pear, the sound coming out as a hoarse Gaaaa! He pinched the rims of both cowbells together, and shook them savagely.

The sudden clanking drew the attention of the crowd back to the girl in the pillory, now writhing and twisting, making unimaginable sounds of agony through the pear. For a moment, in her anguish, Catherine began to faint. There was gray fuzz in her vision, and sounds became muffled. The clanking ceased. The sound hurt so much, she was glad it had stopped.

The bailiff threw water in her face.

"No use going to sleep, now, young missy, you've got a visitors."

Catherine turned her head to see the crowd part as an older woman approached the platform. She briefly disappeared from view as she climbed the stairs.The woman looked down on Catherine for a moment and spoke to the crowd.

"Pretty young thing. I remember her yesterday, I do, pretty young thing and quality. A young woman of quality thought I. Well, I'm not too proud to say that you're never too old to be fooled. She's learning her lesson now, isn't she?"

The woman was given a light whippy switch.

"My mother used one of these on me from time to time, I remember, and well she did; not like now, when children are allowed to run amok, and steal and make trouble. . . Here's one for you then, little missy."

Catherine heard the faint whistle of the switch and jumped in pain as it whipped across her buttocks. She grunted, and clenched her butt as a line of fire grew across the cheeks.

"That's one," the Bailiff shouted, "and well laid on too, but you can do better I'm sure, granny!"

"So it's granny is it, Sir," she said. "And here's what your granny should have done to you, I'll wager."

The whistle of the switch was lost in the laugh of the crowd. But Catherine felt it and gasped. Her hands clenched in fists, her eyes screwed shut in pain.

The switch whistled and snapped against Catherine's upraised ass eight more times. The bailiff counted out the strokes. There was applause and cheers when the last stroke was delivered.

Catherine was just trying to hang on. She only looked ahead one stroke at a time, knowing if she looked any farther ahead she would lose her mind with despair. Each stroke brought her one step closer to getting out of the pillory. That was the thing. Beyond that she dared not look.

At some point the second shopkeeper had mounted the platform. Catherine could not see her. But she heard her speak.

"I want to give this young hussy her due, but I fear I'm not up to it. I will give her one of my best and then if a strong young man would volunteer?"

From the noise there were many takers, but Catherine could see none of it. Finally she heard the familiar whistle and felt the snap. With relief she took it. It hurt, but it was bearable.

"Now my turn," a man said.

The next stroke was not bearable. It was delivered with all the strength of a young and strong man's arm and ripped across her buttocks like a splash of acid. She screamed and writhed, making the cowbells pull and clank.

The second was worse, and the third worse still.

Catherine cried and screamed and pleaded, though her words were incoherent. Each stroke made her jump in pain, and brought the cowbells clanking together.

She had lost track of the count, and didn't hear the bailiff count ten. She crouched there, in an agony of anticipation, until slowly, fearfully, she relaxed, knowing it was over.

Her buttocks were striped red with welts. A few lines bled, where the man had whipped her. Her body was covered with sweat, and she was utterly exhausted. Her thighs had long since tired, and she was essentially suspended in the pillory by her wrists and lower jaw.

The bailiff released her ankles and then her wrists and neck, Catherine fell from the pillory and lay on the rough planking. The bailiff unscrewed the pear, and pulled it out, and unclamped the cowbells. Catherine screamed hoarsely as he pulled the clamps off. He threw a bucket of cold water over her.

Catherine sputtered and sat up on her wounded butt, cried out and leaned forward, getting her legs under her. She cupped her hands over her breasts and cried. Her nipples were swollen and horribly sore. They hurt when a breeze blew over them.

She looked around wildly as a piece of rotten fruit just missed her. Her glance was drawn to a balcony overlooking the square, and she saw there, among a group of four girls giggling and laughing together, Amalie, her cousin. They locked eyes for a moment and then, dropping her head, the Amalie stepped back from the balcony. Catherine was stunned, not just that Amalie had witnessed her shame and humiliation, but something else. Catherine had seen it in her cousin's eyes. Catherine had seen there no pity, no sympathy, no embarrassment. She had seen something more like . . . eagerness.
 

Jon Smithie

Governor
The Theft (conclusion)

Catherine retched helplessly on the platform, emptying her stomach. She wept as she tried to cover her nakedness. Her buttocks burned from the switching, her nipples throbbed, and she could barely open and close her mouth, her jaws ached so awfully from the pear that had pried her mouth open. Her mouth was completely dry, but thirst was the least of her torments.

She cried out in pain and humiliation as the Bailiff pinched and twisted her ear and pulled her to her feet.

"We're not finished yet, milady, oh no, the best is yet to come." The bailiff called loudly, still playing to the crowd. "You seem chilled; let us warm your shoulders for you, my dear! We'll give you a good warming, now, won't we, courtesy of my lord the Judge."

Catherine was pulled to the whipping frame, a stout frame of heavy timbers. Her wrists and ankles were bound with coarse rope while she stood centered in the frame, helpless and unresisting.

"You'll need this," the Bailiff said, holding up a thick oaken dowel. "Wouldn't want you to bite your tongue off, would we?"

She opened her mouth, wincing, as he pushed the dowel to the back of her teeth, and tied it in place.

The rope had been passed through an iron eye bolt screwed into the top of the frame. The bailiff took the other end, where it was tied off to a stanchion in the frame and began drawing on it. Catherine's arms were pulled up in front of her until she was stretched on her tiptoes. She grunted in pain as the ropes cut into her wrists. Another bailiff helped pull her up until her feet came off the platform. Her ankles had been bound to an eye bolt in the bottom of the frame, so as they pulled the rope, she was stretched taut. Every muscle in her pale body stood out. She groaned piteously as her arms and shoulders took the strain of her suspension. While the other man held the rope tight, the Bailiff tied it off to the stanchion.

The bailiff patted Catherine on the rump and spoke to the crowd. "You young ladies be mindful," he said, "You see what happens to young ladies who misbehave." There was no joke this time. He was quite serious, and the crowd grew quiet.

He selected a whip from the chest on the platform. It was the cat-o-nine-tails, a whip he knew well from his service in the navy, and it was made in the navy way, a rope partially unraveled to three cords, and those cords unraveled at their ends to make three loose strands. There were no barbs or hooks or bones on the ends. He'd heard of such whips, but had never served under a captain who used such a thing. Even so, he knew he could kill with this whip, given a hundred lashes. He would have to restrain himself; after all, the girl had not received a death sentence. He shook out the whip, loosening the strands. He took his position behind and to the left side of the hanging girl, then drew his thick arm back and struck her high across the back with vicious force.

The effect on Catherine was immediate. She writhed and twisted in agony, gasping and crying out through the gag. Livid welts sprang up where the whip had passed. The Bailiff struck her again across the shoulders, and again, a little lower, working his way down her back. He struck her again and again, establishing a rhythm, as though he were chopping wood. Catherine's agony was apparent in the twisting and thrashing of her body. Animal sounds were torn from her throat as she suffered under the lashing. Her teeth crunched deeply into the wood dowel and her lovely face was a mask of agony.

After two dozen strokes the Bailiff paused. He took a drink of watery beer, wiped his mouth.

"Hot work, today," he said.

He observed the victim of his attentions, registering for the first time what a stunning female she was. It seemed a pity to whip such a creature, and he wondered if the Judge hadn't been too hard.

"Need a break?" Another bailiff asked him. "Let me give her my compliments."

He shook his head no. "I have my good left arm yet."

He took up position, this time on Catherine's right side, and left handed, continued the flogging.

Catherine's back was now crisscrossed with angry wheals. Bound and stretched tightly as she was, she still writhed under the snapping of the whip on her bare flesh. Catherine could never have believed that pain could be as bad as this. The pain consumed her. She could not bear it, neither could she escape it. She had lost all modesty. She neither knew nor cared now of the display she made with her agonized twisting and writhing. She didn't hear, nor would she have cared about the hoots and catcalls of the crowd as they enjoyed the writhing of her lovely body under the agony of the lash. After another two dozen he rested again.

Catherine was still conscious, but only in an animal sense. Her mind was so blasted by pain that she couldn't contain thought. She mewled and cried, clenched and unclenched her purpled hands. She looked out over the crowd, unseeing. Slowly she became aware of the man if front of her. His head was a little lower than hers. He reached up to her and held her chin in his hand.

"Still with us?" he asked. It was the Bailiff. "Don't want you nodding off now. We're almost halfway done."

Her eyes pleaded for mercy.

"Don't worry, my pretty, this won't kill you. You're in good hands."

He patted her cheek and returned to his position. She was an awfully good looking girl he thought again. Her eyes were so innocent. He shrugged off the thought, and struck her with extra force.

Another dozen and her back was bleeding in places. He aimed lower, whipping her across her buttocks and thighs, adding the welts of the cat to the welts of the switches. Another dozen and he switched again.

He threw a bucket of brine over her to revive her. Satisfied by the grunts and cries of pain as the salt soaked into the many cuts up and down her back, he drew his arm back and flailed her again. He went slower now, after every few blows shaking blood off the whip. He was not hitting her as hard either, both because the vigorous whipping had tired his arms, and because he would not kill her. Another two dozen, and then the last four laid on especially hard just for show.

Catherine hung exhausted, in and out of consciousness.. She couldn't move anymore, her body was burned out. Another bucket of brine was dumped over her.

"One more little chore, my dear, and then your good as gold."

The crowd had become restive. Though hardened to punishments like this, there was now a growing sympathy for the young woman. A few voices took up the protest, and then the cry became general.

"Let her off, she's had enough!"

The bailiff was surprised at this turn of events, and in spite of himself, pleased. He'd doled out much more serious punishments than this with the crowd cheering him on. He knew a mob was a fickle thing, and sensitive in its way. But you never knew how they would turn, especially when witnessing the punishment of a pretty girl. Could they have sensed his own reluctance? Yes, the girl had had enough.

Still, there was his duty.

The bailiff held up his hand for quiet.

"My lord the Judge has sentenced her to be branded."

There were boos and hisses, cries of "God's sake, show mercy!"

The bailiff kept his hand up to the crowd, and with his other hand drew out a glowing branding iron from the brazier. He checked the head of it to make sure it was the proper mark for "thief" and plunged it into a bucket of brine. The iron hissed and steam rose from the bucket, as the crowd cheered. Unceremoniously the bailiff held the now cooler iron up to Catherine and pressed it to her skin above her right breast. She bucked as the heat hit her like a fist. The bailiff quickly took it away, leaving a reddened T on her skin. He did the same with the brand marked with FS for "False Swearer" Though painful, the marks would heal in days, and were not permanent, as the scars would have been from a red-hot iron.

Catherine was brought down from the frame and untied. She laid on the platform, unable, for the moment, to move. Her eyes were open and wild with pain. The bailiff crouched down in front of her. He carefully removed the wood dowel, noting how deeply she'd bitten into it.

"All over now, all over. Not so bad, was it? Could've been worse.." The bailiff patted her cheek. "Could've been much worse. I went easy on you. You won't be taking things that don't belong to you, anymore, now will you? You'll learn your lesson, won't you, there's a smart girl."

Catherine looked at the bailiff with her wide eyes. Welling up from her world of pain she whispered, "I didn't take those things."

The bailiff's jaw clenched in anger that this girl would still deny her crime, and in the same moment knew she spoke the truth.

He rose to his feet and walked away from her. After a few moments of gazing out at the crowd he went back to Catherine, threw a cloak over her nakedness, and helped her to her feet. Together, with the bailiff supporting her, they walked from the platform.

It was unheard of! A bailiff leaving the platform to escort a prisoner! Wrapping his cloak around her! The crowd cheered and clapped, enjoying the warmth of their compassion.

The bailiff turned Catherine over to the jailers

"Put her in a cell with a cot. Send for a healing woman to put salve on her back. And get her decent food and clothes. I'll pay."

"Of course, milord," one of the jailors laughed, "She'll have our finest suite."

The Bailiff didn't smile, but looked each man in the eye. "And if you try to take more than your due, you'll settle with me for it."

The Bailiff left Catherine without another word. He had to return to the platform to continue his work. There were three highwaymen and two cutpurses who needed hanging. He found that before he could continue he had to assure himself that they were guilty. He knew it wasn't his place to decide that. He had his duty. And yet . . .

"Highwaymen and thieves," he growled to himself. "I have my duty."

As it turned out, the bailiff did not have to spend any money on Catherine. Amalie, her cousin, came to the cells with clothes, food and Margaret, a healing woman, to spread salve on Catherine's back. After bribing the jailers they were taken to the cell.

Catherine was in a fever of pain and pacing restlessly about the cell, exhausted though she was, unable to find any comfort, distracted nearly to madness by the pain. She had dropped the cloak for it hurt her back, and she couldn't sit Her arms were clenched over her breasts, leaving her shorn sex exposed. She heard people in the passageway and turned her back as they approached the cell.

Amalie's eyes widened in fascinated horror when she saw the swollen raw welts and stripes of blood across Catherine's back and buttocks.

"Oh, cousin, oh poor Catherine, I've come to help you!" She said as the jailor unlocked the cell door.

Catherine dropped to her knees as Amalie and the healer approached. Amalie glanced over her shoulder at the jailer, to catch him staring at the naked, wretched woman before them. Indeed, he was looking hungrily at Catherine, but glanced up at Amalie, catching her looking, and smiled. Blushing, Amalie threw a cloak over her cousin. Catherine cried out as the cloth touched her.

"Please, Miss," Margaret said, "allow me, I know what to do."

She turned to the jailer to ask him to leave. She caught him staring, not at the naked girl, but at Amalie.

"Put your eyes back in your head, and give us some privacy, if you please."

The jailer glanced her way and then stared at Amalie again. "Don't put on airs," he said. "You're in my country. I won't have airs."

"How have I put on airs to you, sir," Amalie asked, her voice wavering.

The jailer caught the fear in her voice.

"You behave yourself, now Miss," the jailer said. "Wouldn't want you to end up like your cousin. You rich and fine women, you think you're so pretty and fine, well, you see what can happen. Justice is blind," he added, "even if I'm not."

He winked.

"Just ignore him and hold her up," she instructed Amalie. "Miss," she said to Catherine, "I'm going to rub this salve on your back, I'll be gentle, don't you worry it'll help with the pain and bring down the swelling."

Catherine gasped at the first touch, but the relief, as the salve was spread on her back, was palpable.

"Oh, God bless you," she wept.

The healing woman came twice a day, and Amalie too would visit. However, as Catherine's body healed her mind and spirit fell into a deep depression. Amalie assured her that she wouldn't have to stay in the cell long, that her parents had been sent a message, and in the meantime, Amalie's father, Catherine's uncle, was having his lawyer petition the judge for her to be released to his recognizance.

"I don't want my parents to see me," Catherine said. "I just want to die."

Amalie brought her friends to visit. "To cheer you up!" Amalie said. Catherine felt like an animal at the menagerie, with their chattering to each other and glances at her.

"What was it like?" One asked. "The whipping, I mean."

"You're very brave, I'm sure I would just die of shame." Another said.

They all agreed it was quite an adventure to be in the jail.

After four days the salve had worked wonders on Catherine's back and on the light brands on her chest. There was no infection. Margaret said a man would have to look close to see the scars, and giggled. Margaret told her there was no further need of her arts. She hugged Catherine, and wished her well, and not to be discouraged, that the worst was over.

"But how long before you get out of this place?"

Catherine would have liked to know the answer herself. She didn't want her parents to see her like this, in this place, but it helped that she had done nothing wrong.. Her parents would believe her. She also felt at some risk here. Many of the jailers were scum. They mistreated the prisoners, men and women alike, but the women especially. She could hear what went on in some of the other cells. She was safe only so long as her Uncle Herbert and Cousin Amalie looked out for her.

In this Catherine was only partially correct. The jailers respected the more immediate threat of the bailiff, who had made it clear to them more than once that Catherine was not to be molested in any way.

That day the bailiff visited her.

When Catherine saw who it was she recoiled in horror and fear. It was as though her body, not just her mind recoiled from him. She backed up until she was against the wall of the cell.

The bailiff stood alone at the bars of the door.

"I hope you are well, young Miss," he said.

"What do you want?" she managed to gasp.

"You're afraid of me, and have reason for it. But I've not come to hurt you. In fact, you've been under my protection while you've been here. I know some of these men," he waved his hand, "take liberties."

She said nothing.

"I've come to beg your pardon," he continued. "You said, when I had finished" he struggled to find a word, "Chastising you, you said you had not taken the things you were accused of having taken. I believed you. I knew, as well as I know my own name, that you were telling the truth, but," he shrugged, "I've been wrong before, when I believed what a pretty girl was telling me. Not so very often, now, more's the pity." He seemed to be at a loss for a moment.

"What do you want?" She asked again.

"There was a cutpurse the other day, one of many, I assure you, who wanted to make things right when they see the noose. He had confessed to the preacher, but he wanted to tell me something. He said that he had watched you being punished, and that it wasn't right, and that he was glad when some of the crowd started calling for mercy, and he yelled louder than most, because you see, he knew you were innocent. He had planted those things in your purse."

Catherine was stunned. Tears sprang to her eyes.

"Why, why would he do that to me?"

"He was paid to do it. Paid by a pretty young woman who said you were trying to steal her fiancee. She didn't give her name, of course, but he saw her come here, and found out who she was. It's your cousin, Amalie."

Catherine buried her face in her hands and wept.

"I can't believe you, I cannot! Why would she do such a thing? I don't even like that man she's promised to! It's outrageous! It can't be true!"

Catherine's weeping quieted. She looked up at the bailiff. "He was always trying to touch me, smirking at me, like he's God's gift. I don't know what Amalie sees in him, but to suggest I was trying to steal him! The idea is laughable."

"But your cousin believed it. Enough to do you a dirty turn. It all fits. If you didn't put those things in your purse who did? And why?"

"Then you can take the man to the judge and have me acquitted, and I can leave this place, and everyone will know I'm not a thief, and the scars will fall from my back, and the brands and. . ." She started weeping again. "You'll take this man to the judge?" she asked.

"I hung him," was the quiet reply.

Catherine approached the bailiff. "You hung him? My only chance to prove my innocence? How could you, knowing what I've suffered? And at your hands too!"

The bailiff shook his head. "It would've been no use. The judge would have dismissed whatever any criminal would say. The judge is as mean and as close minded a man as God ever let live on this earth. He doesn't care about your innocence. It doesn't matter to him. His philosophy is that it doesn't matter if you're guilty or not, as long as you can be made an example."

"Then what do we do?"

"We let him make another example."
 

Madiosi

Depictor of Dreams
Staff member
The Theft (conclusion)

Catherine retched helplessly on the platform, emptying her stomach. She wept as she tried to cover her nakedness. Her buttocks burned from the switching, her nipples throbbed, and she could barely open and close her mouth, her jaws ached so awfully from the pear that had pried her mouth open. Her mouth was completely dry, but thirst was the least of her torments.

She cried out in pain and humiliation as the Bailiff pinched and twisted her ear and pulled her to her feet.

"We're not finished yet, milady, oh no, the best is yet to come." The bailiff called loudly, still playing to the crowd. "You seem chilled; let us warm your shoulders for you, my dear! We'll give you a good warming, now, won't we, courtesy of my lord the Judge."

Catherine was pulled to the whipping frame, a stout frame of heavy timbers. Her wrists and ankles were bound with coarse rope while she stood centered in the frame, helpless and unresisting.

"You'll need this," the Bailiff said, holding up a thick oaken dowel. "Wouldn't want you to bite your tongue off, would we?"

She opened her mouth, wincing, as he pushed the dowel to the back of her teeth, and tied it in place.

The rope had been passed through an iron eye bolt screwed into the top of the frame. The bailiff took the other end, where it was tied off to a stanchion in the frame and began drawing on it. Catherine's arms were pulled up in front of her until she was stretched on her tiptoes. She grunted in pain as the ropes cut into her wrists. Another bailiff helped pull her up until her feet came off the platform. Her ankles had been bound to an eye bolt in the bottom of the frame, so as they pulled the rope, she was stretched taut. Every muscle in her pale body stood out. She groaned piteously as her arms and shoulders took the strain of her suspension. While the other man held the rope tight, the Bailiff tied it off to the stanchion.

The bailiff patted Catherine on the rump and spoke to the crowd. "You young ladies be mindful," he said, "You see what happens to young ladies who misbehave." There was no joke this time. He was quite serious, and the crowd grew quiet.

He selected a whip from the chest on the platform. It was the cat-o-nine-tails, a whip he knew well from his service in the navy, and it was made in the navy way, a rope partially unraveled to three cords, and those cords unraveled at their ends to make three loose strands. There were no barbs or hooks or bones on the ends. He'd heard of such whips, but had never served under a captain who used such a thing. Even so, he knew he could kill with this whip, given a hundred lashes. He would have to restrain himself; after all, the girl had not received a death sentence. He shook out the whip, loosening the strands. He took his position behind and to the left side of the hanging girl, then drew his thick arm back and struck her high across the back with vicious force.

The effect on Catherine was immediate. She writhed and twisted in agony, gasping and crying out through the gag. Livid welts sprang up where the whip had passed. The Bailiff struck her again across the shoulders, and again, a little lower, working his way down her back. He struck her again and again, establishing a rhythm, as though he were chopping wood. Catherine's agony was apparent in the twisting and thrashing of her body. Animal sounds were torn from her throat as she suffered under the lashing. Her teeth crunched deeply into the wood dowel and her lovely face was a mask of agony.

After two dozen strokes the Bailiff paused. He took a drink of watery beer, wiped his mouth.

"Hot work, today," he said.

He observed the victim of his attentions, registering for the first time what a stunning female she was. It seemed a pity to whip such a creature, and he wondered if the Judge hadn't been too hard.

"Need a break?" Another bailiff asked him. "Let me give her my compliments."

He shook his head no. "I have my good left arm yet."

He took up position, this time on Catherine's right side, and left handed, continued the flogging.

Catherine's back was now crisscrossed with angry wheals. Bound and stretched tightly as she was, she still writhed under the snapping of the whip on her bare flesh. Catherine could never have believed that pain could be as bad as this. The pain consumed her. She could not bear it, neither could she escape it. She had lost all modesty. She neither knew nor cared now of the display she made with her agonized twisting and writhing. She didn't hear, nor would she have cared about the hoots and catcalls of the crowd as they enjoyed the writhing of her lovely body under the agony of the lash. After another two dozen he rested again.

Catherine was still conscious, but only in an animal sense. Her mind was so blasted by pain that she couldn't contain thought. She mewled and cried, clenched and unclenched her purpled hands. She looked out over the crowd, unseeing. Slowly she became aware of the man if front of her. His head was a little lower than hers. He reached up to her and held her chin in his hand.

"Still with us?" he asked. It was the Bailiff. "Don't want you nodding off now. We're almost halfway done."

Her eyes pleaded for mercy.

"Don't worry, my pretty, this won't kill you. You're in good hands."

He patted her cheek and returned to his position. She was an awfully good looking girl he thought again. Her eyes were so innocent. He shrugged off the thought, and struck her with extra force.

Another dozen and her back was bleeding in places. He aimed lower, whipping her across her buttocks and thighs, adding the welts of the cat to the welts of the switches. Another dozen and he switched again.

He threw a bucket of brine over her to revive her. Satisfied by the grunts and cries of pain as the salt soaked into the many cuts up and down her back, he drew his arm back and flailed her again. He went slower now, after every few blows shaking blood off the whip. He was not hitting her as hard either, both because the vigorous whipping had tired his arms, and because he would not kill her. Another two dozen, and then the last four laid on especially hard just for show.

Catherine hung exhausted, in and out of consciousness.. She couldn't move anymore, her body was burned out. Another bucket of brine was dumped over her.

"One more little chore, my dear, and then your good as gold."

The crowd had become restive. Though hardened to punishments like this, there was now a growing sympathy for the young woman. A few voices took up the protest, and then the cry became general.

"Let her off, she's had enough!"

The bailiff was surprised at this turn of events, and in spite of himself, pleased. He'd doled out much more serious punishments than this with the crowd cheering him on. He knew a mob was a fickle thing, and sensitive in its way. But you never knew how they would turn, especially when witnessing the punishment of a pretty girl. Could they have sensed his own reluctance? Yes, the girl had had enough.

Still, there was his duty.

The bailiff held up his hand for quiet.

"My lord the Judge has sentenced her to be branded."

There were boos and hisses, cries of "God's sake, show mercy!"

The bailiff kept his hand up to the crowd, and with his other hand drew out a glowing branding iron from the brazier. He checked the head of it to make sure it was the proper mark for "thief" and plunged it into a bucket of brine. The iron hissed and steam rose from the bucket, as the crowd cheered. Unceremoniously the bailiff held the now cooler iron up to Catherine and pressed it to her skin above her right breast. She bucked as the heat hit her like a fist. The bailiff quickly took it away, leaving a reddened T on her skin. He did the same with the brand marked with FS for "False Swearer" Though painful, the marks would heal in days, and were not permanent, as the scars would have been from a red-hot iron.

Catherine was brought down from the frame and untied. She laid on the platform, unable, for the moment, to move. Her eyes were open and wild with pain. The bailiff crouched down in front of her. He carefully removed the wood dowel, noting how deeply she'd bitten into it.

"All over now, all over. Not so bad, was it? Could've been worse.." The bailiff patted her cheek. "Could've been much worse. I went easy on you. You won't be taking things that don't belong to you, anymore, now will you? You'll learn your lesson, won't you, there's a smart girl."

Catherine looked at the bailiff with her wide eyes. Welling up from her world of pain she whispered, "I didn't take those things."

The bailiff's jaw clenched in anger that this girl would still deny her crime, and in the same moment knew she spoke the truth.

He rose to his feet and walked away from her. After a few moments of gazing out at the crowd he went back to Catherine, threw a cloak over her nakedness, and helped her to her feet. Together, with the bailiff supporting her, they walked from the platform.

It was unheard of! A bailiff leaving the platform to escort a prisoner! Wrapping his cloak around her! The crowd cheered and clapped, enjoying the warmth of their compassion.

The bailiff turned Catherine over to the jailers

"Put her in a cell with a cot. Send for a healing woman to put salve on her back. And get her decent food and clothes. I'll pay."

"Of course, milord," one of the jailors laughed, "She'll have our finest suite."

The Bailiff didn't smile, but looked each man in the eye. "And if you try to take more than your due, you'll settle with me for it."

The Bailiff left Catherine without another word. He had to return to the platform to continue his work. There were three highwaymen and two cutpurses who needed hanging. He found that before he could continue he had to assure himself that they were guilty. He knew it wasn't his place to decide that. He had his duty. And yet . . .

"Highwaymen and thieves," he growled to himself. "I have my duty."

As it turned out, the bailiff did not have to spend any money on Catherine. Amalie, her cousin, came to the cells with clothes, food and Margaret, a healing woman, to spread salve on Catherine's back. After bribing the jailers they were taken to the cell.

Catherine was in a fever of pain and pacing restlessly about the cell, exhausted though she was, unable to find any comfort, distracted nearly to madness by the pain. She had dropped the cloak for it hurt her back, and she couldn't sit Her arms were clenched over her breasts, leaving her shorn sex exposed. She heard people in the passageway and turned her back as they approached the cell.

Amalie's eyes widened in fascinated horror when she saw the swollen raw welts and stripes of blood across Catherine's back and buttocks.

"Oh, cousin, oh poor Catherine, I've come to help you!" She said as the jailor unlocked the cell door.

Catherine dropped to her knees as Amalie and the healer approached. Amalie glanced over her shoulder at the jailer, to catch him staring at the naked, wretched woman before them. Indeed, he was looking hungrily at Catherine, but glanced up at Amalie, catching her looking, and smiled. Blushing, Amalie threw a cloak over her cousin. Catherine cried out as the cloth touched her.

"Please, Miss," Margaret said, "allow me, I know what to do."

She turned to the jailer to ask him to leave. She caught him staring, not at the naked girl, but at Amalie.

"Put your eyes back in your head, and give us some privacy, if you please."

The jailer glanced her way and then stared at Amalie again. "Don't put on airs," he said. "You're in my country. I won't have airs."

"How have I put on airs to you, sir," Amalie asked, her voice wavering.

The jailer caught the fear in her voice.

"You behave yourself, now Miss," the jailer said. "Wouldn't want you to end up like your cousin. You rich and fine women, you think you're so pretty and fine, well, you see what can happen. Justice is blind," he added, "even if I'm not."

He winked.

"Just ignore him and hold her up," she instructed Amalie. "Miss," she said to Catherine, "I'm going to rub this salve on your back, I'll be gentle, don't you worry it'll help with the pain and bring down the swelling."

Catherine gasped at the first touch, but the relief, as the salve was spread on her back, was palpable.

"Oh, God bless you," she wept.

The healing woman came twice a day, and Amalie too would visit. However, as Catherine's body healed her mind and spirit fell into a deep depression. Amalie assured her that she wouldn't have to stay in the cell long, that her parents had been sent a message, and in the meantime, Amalie's father, Catherine's uncle, was having his lawyer petition the judge for her to be released to his recognizance.

"I don't want my parents to see me," Catherine said. "I just want to die."

Amalie brought her friends to visit. "To cheer you up!" Amalie said. Catherine felt like an animal at the menagerie, with their chattering to each other and glances at her.

"What was it like?" One asked. "The whipping, I mean."

"You're very brave, I'm sure I would just die of shame." Another said.

They all agreed it was quite an adventure to be in the jail.

After four days the salve had worked wonders on Catherine's back and on the light brands on her chest. There was no infection. Margaret said a man would have to look close to see the scars, and giggled. Margaret told her there was no further need of her arts. She hugged Catherine, and wished her well, and not to be discouraged, that the worst was over.

"But how long before you get out of this place?"

Catherine would have liked to know the answer herself. She didn't want her parents to see her like this, in this place, but it helped that she had done nothing wrong.. Her parents would believe her. She also felt at some risk here. Many of the jailers were scum. They mistreated the prisoners, men and women alike, but the women especially. She could hear what went on in some of the other cells. She was safe only so long as her Uncle Herbert and Cousin Amalie looked out for her.

In this Catherine was only partially correct. The jailers respected the more immediate threat of the bailiff, who had made it clear to them more than once that Catherine was not to be molested in any way.

That day the bailiff visited her.

When Catherine saw who it was she recoiled in horror and fear. It was as though her body, not just her mind recoiled from him. She backed up until she was against the wall of the cell.

The bailiff stood alone at the bars of the door.

"I hope you are well, young Miss," he said.

"What do you want?" she managed to gasp.

"You're afraid of me, and have reason for it. But I've not come to hurt you. In fact, you've been under my protection while you've been here. I know some of these men," he waved his hand, "take liberties."

She said nothing.

"I've come to beg your pardon," he continued. "You said, when I had finished" he struggled to find a word, "Chastising you, you said you had not taken the things you were accused of having taken. I believed you. I knew, as well as I know my own name, that you were telling the truth, but," he shrugged, "I've been wrong before, when I believed what a pretty girl was telling me. Not so very often, now, more's the pity." He seemed to be at a loss for a moment.

"What do you want?" She asked again.

"There was a cutpurse the other day, one of many, I assure you, who wanted to make things right when they see the noose. He had confessed to the preacher, but he wanted to tell me something. He said that he had watched you being punished, and that it wasn't right, and that he was glad when some of the crowd started calling for mercy, and he yelled louder than most, because you see, he knew you were innocent. He had planted those things in your purse."

Catherine was stunned. Tears sprang to her eyes.

"Why, why would he do that to me?"

"He was paid to do it. Paid by a pretty young woman who said you were trying to steal her fiancee. She didn't give her name, of course, but he saw her come here, and found out who she was. It's your cousin, Amalie."

Catherine buried her face in her hands and wept.

"I can't believe you, I cannot! Why would she do such a thing? I don't even like that man she's promised to! It's outrageous! It can't be true!"

Catherine's weeping quieted. She looked up at the bailiff. "He was always trying to touch me, smirking at me, like he's God's gift. I don't know what Amalie sees in him, but to suggest I was trying to steal him! The idea is laughable."

"But your cousin believed it. Enough to do you a dirty turn. It all fits. If you didn't put those things in your purse who did? And why?"

"Then you can take the man to the judge and have me acquitted, and I can leave this place, and everyone will know I'm not a thief, and the scars will fall from my back, and the brands and. . ." She started weeping again. "You'll take this man to the judge?" she asked.

"I hung him," was the quiet reply.

Catherine approached the bailiff. "You hung him? My only chance to prove my innocence? How could you, knowing what I've suffered? And at your hands too!"

The bailiff shook his head. "It would've been no use. The judge would have dismissed whatever any criminal would say. The judge is as mean and as close minded a man as God ever let live on this earth. He doesn't care about your innocence. It doesn't matter to him. His philosophy is that it doesn't matter if you're guilty or not, as long as you can be made an example."

"Then what do we do?"

"We let him make another example."

The End?
 

Loinclothslave1

Magistrate
!
Nicely done. Innocence is no guarantee of justice, it seems. Perhaps cousin Amelie will be the next "example"?
I reckon!


Someone else asked for a sequel and it could clearly be done but I think this story works perfectly just as it is. Let us readers come up with the sequel in our minds, much more colorful! I have delicious revenge in mind for Amelie, but yours might be different and equally valid...
 

Jon Smithie

Governor
I must say after reading this story after so many years, I was a little surprised (and a little embarrassed as well) by the many similarities of this with my still ongoing "Mina Berkeley's Voyage." I mean similar style, plot, characters, time frame, everything. I guess you could say I'm a writer with only one story to tell. I prefer to think of myself as a writer of singular vision, lol.
 
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