Continues from chapter four
Countess Alexandra Gladstone saw the shadow seconds before the white, bony hand gripped her face. The handkerchief was soaked with chloroform. Her next memory was of a tall, thin man with an abundant nose, locking her into a cage atop a wagon. Her kidnapper drove a Landau carriage; the wagon had metal bars to prevent escape. Alexandra’s screams for help were rendered silent by a steel spider gag, the ring inside her mouth attached to a wide black leather strap around her head.
A crescent-shaped moon cast sufficient light to reveal the road between Brunel Hall and the railway station. Cracking his whip, the kidnapper veered sharply onto a narrow lane leading into a dark forest. He wanted to make sure no one followed him. The man stopped the carriage abruptly as he approached the forest’s edge.
Satisfied that no one at The Bootmaker’s home had discovered Countess Gladstone’s disappearance, he walked swiftly to the wagon. Removing a silver key from his vest pocket, he unlocked one of the metal bars. As Alexandra attempted to flee, he roughly pushed her to the back of the wagon. He quickly bound her wrists with rope and covered her eyes with a heavy black blindfold. His maniacal laughter filled her with fear that she never would see The Bootmaker or anyone else again.
“‘Tis the fate of the fallen woman,” the kidnapper said, as he ripped Alexandra’s dressing gown and her matching nightgown off of her, leaving her wearing only a corset and a chemise underneath. “It’s unlikely that the Church of Rome will save you, but I shall take you thither to someone who will try and I will duly be paid.”
As the kidnapper returned to his carriage seat, Alexandra felt the wind pick up. Howls from the dense forest competed with the grinding of the wooden wheels on the rutted lane. The clock tower sounded more distant as the carriage and wagon sped into the night. Dark clouds threatened heavy rain.
The man had abducted her as she prepared to retire at Brunel Hall. She had been in the after-glow from the machine she had helped The Bootmaker design. Powered by steam like the other ones she had experienced at Brunel Hall, it had enabled her to make love with her late husband for the final time. The kidnapper had hidden in the bed-chamber, spiriting her out of the mansion as The Bootmaker and his servants slept.
After an hour’s travel, the kidnapper halted at a crumbling gate at the end of a lane. A fallen stone pillar barely left sufficient room for the carriage to pass. The grounds were so overgrown that any passersby, in the unlikely scenario they ventured this far, would not be able to discern whether there was a hall ahead. As the kidnapper carefully navigated the field of spindle and holly trees, the outline of a large mansion gradually came into view against the sky, which showed the first glimmer of dawn.
Stopping near the front door, the man peered up at the mansion, which resembled a mausoleum. The western half of the hall had collapsed. Some blamed neglect by the previous owners who had lost their wealth. Others cited a lightning storm that struck decades ago. In recent years, there had been repairs to seal off the eastern half of the mansion so it could remain habitable for the woman who had inherited it. A matronly woman strode toward the carriage and greeted the kidnapper as Mr. Helpmann, an ironic name for someone of his ilk.
Alexandra immediately recognized the voice of Mrs. Thomas Foucault, president of The Ladies’ Collective for the Preservation of Chastity. Mrs. Foucault pressed pound notes into Mr. Helpmann’s hands. He detached the wagon from the carriage and handed her the key.
Mrs. Foucault fingered a crucifix as she strode to the wagon. She wore the plain gray and green check dress Alexandra recognized from the time she met Mrs. Foucault on the railway from Blackpool to London.
“And so here we are. Countess Gladstone, although you would not listen to me on the train after first visiting Brunel Hall, I had every intention of speaking with you again. I have made my plan a reality through divine intervention,” Mrs. Foucault said.
Mrs. Foucault traced her right index finger over the steel ring inside Alexandra’s mouth. It was attached to four steel arms that stretched out on both sides of her face. A metal buckle on the leather strap that held the gag in place.
“I picked this out for you myself,” she said, the tone of her voice tinged with menace.
“On the train you threw the pamphlet at me that I gave you that contained the poem, ‘The Angel in the House.’ You also had cross words for me, but you cannot speak now. You will listen and you will become receptive. If not, you likely will perish here, inside my crumbling ancestral home.”
Mrs. Foucault removed the blindfold and slapped Alexandra’s face with a stinging force.
“Countess, I warned you about Mr. Brunel. The Ladies’ Collective for the Preservation of Chastity has a spy in his mansion, a young man who is pursuing the priesthood, who posed as one of Mr. Brunel’s helpers.
“We know all about your descent; the machines that the immoral man you call The Bootmaker has invented. They violate the Church of Rome’s dictate that the sole purpose of sexuality is to enable gentlemen to reproduce in the image of God. You and other daughters of decadence are victims of fallen angels.”
Mrs. Foucault unlocked the cage atop the wagon, quickly placed a metal collar around Alexandra’s neck, and grasped the chain attached to it. When Alexandra wouldn’t move as directed, Mrs. Foucault displayed her strength, pulling Alexandra out of the cage. Alexandra landed on the ground and struggled to stand as Mrs. Foucault ordered.
At the end of the entrance hallway to the mansion, Mrs. Foucault opened a hidden door. She lit a candle and led Alexandra down four flights of stairs to a dungeon. She removed Alexandra’s corset and chemise so that she was nude. She attached the chain from the collar to the far wall. She bound Alexandra’s wrists behind her back with black leather cuffs.
“Your fornication is a mortal sin,” Mrs. Foucault told her, almost spitting the words out in anger. “What you did with those machines was a grave matter. You had full knowledge it was so, and you gave full consent to commit those acts.”
Alexandra examined her surroundings with a growing sense of panic. The dungeon could not be found by anyone without detailed knowledge of the deteriorating mansion. She felt the first pangs of hunger, magnified by the cold, damp air. It was early in the morning, but in the darkness of the dungeon, Alexandra knew she would lose track of time soon. Sleep proved elusive until exhaustion shut down her body. Her slumber lasted only a few hours.
Alexandra awoke to the sound of Mrs. Foucault’s voice. She was outside the door of the dungeon, giving instructions to Mr. Helpmann, who had kidnapped her from Brunel Hall. He entered the dungeon, tightened the leather restraints that bound Alexandra’s arms behind her back, and placed a white sheet around her nude body. Mrs. Foucault ordered him to remove the gag.
“I want to hear her screams,” Mrs. Foucault said. Mr. Helpmann carried Alexandra up a narrow staircase to a chamber at the top of the tower that was the sole striking architectural feature of the mansion. Mrs. Foucault followed them.
The tower chamber had a sweeping view of the deep forest that surrounded the hall. Mr. Helpmann placed a black leather mask on Alexandra and attached the straps to the back of her head. The mask had holes for her eyes, nostrils and mouth. He removed the white sheet so she was nude again.
“What are you going to do with me?” she asked him. The rejoinder was another blast of his hideous laughter.
“He’s going to punish you,” Mrs. Foucault said as she entered the chamber. She sat in a black chair upholstered in velvet.
Mr. Helpmann lifted Alexandra onto a padded bench connected to a stockade. He set her down with her stomach on the bench and placed her head into the stockade, which consisted of three iron pieces. Mr. Helpmann made sure that Alexandra could not move her head. He walked slowly around the bench as Mrs. Foucault glared at him, suspicious he was admiring her bound, nude body.
“It’s time to whip her,” Mrs. Foucault told him.
Mr. Helpmann nodded and removed his suit jacket. Reaching into a bag, he pulled out a black single-tail bullwhip. Alexandra listened to him warm up. The whip whistled through the air. As she felt the whip snap against her derriere for the first time, it was clear that he was experienced. In the wrong hands, the bullwhip could be as sharp as a blade.
Knowing that Mrs. Foucault and Mr. Helpmann could not see her face, Alexandra managed a wry smile. As she had anticipated, the whip was having the opposite effect of what Mrs. Foucault had intended. Alexandra felt her sex get wet as Mr. Helpmann gradually whipped her harder and more frequently. The yelps and shouts that Mrs. Foucault thought would signify pain did so – but they also meant pleasure to a submissive countess.
Alexandra fantasized about what the Young Bootmaker would be doing if he were in the tower chamber.
He also would be an expert in using the single-tail bullwhip, but he would have other plans for me too. He would turn on a fucking machine, powered by steam, that he built for me. I would feel the tip of the rubber shaft pause at the edge of my well-lubricated sex. I would not be able to see him, but I would feel him attach the silver restraints around the ankles of my olive green boots that he crafted for me. My arms would be restrained behind my back, with a leather strap tight around my waist. The ball gag would be attached to a metal pole in front of me.
Moving to the side of the stockade, he would gently stroke the side of my face and run his fingers through my amber hair.
I would want to tell him that my desire is to be fucked, but I wouldn’t be able to talk. I would feel like he can read my mind and his response would be to deny me pleasure – for now.
“It’s the elegance of a steam engine. It makes you wait,” he would tell me.
He would unbutton his trousers and present his hard cock to me. Removing the ball gag, he would request my consent and I would give it without hesitation. I would begin by licking his cockhead, his pre-cum glistening along his dick slit. I would hear the small engine behind me, the chuff-chuff sound which has become familiar to me.
As I would take the Young Bootmaker’s cock inside my mouth, the machine-driven dildo would enter my sex, the machine and its creator penetrating me with such power.
Alexandra’s fantasy ended with a shrill scream from Mrs. Foucault as the door flew open. The Bootmaker entered, followed by Sir Elliot Walter. Both held pistols. Sir Elliot ordered Mr. Helpmann to put down the whip. The Bootmaker kept his pistol aimed at Mrs. Foucault as he freed Alexandra from the stockade and placed the white sheet around her body.
Sir Elliot carried Alexandra down the stairs. He and The Bootmaker had decided a rapid exit in the hackney they had borrowed was the best approach, but they would soon regret not tying up Mrs. Foucault and Mr. Helpmann.
It had begun to rain, making the footing more difficult for the horses on the rutted lane. After Sir Elliot handed Alexandra in the hackney, he took the reins as The Bootmaker comforted her. Tears streamed down her face. It was the combination of relief that she had been rescued and trauma from being kidnapped.
“How did you find me?”
“I was able to get a message to Sir Elliot in London that I needed his help. I picked him up at the railway station and we stopped at the coaching inn. Luckily, the publican had seen your kidnapper pass at an unusual hour and recalled that he worked for Mrs. Foucault. He gave us directions to this God-forsaken place.”
Despite the rain, Sir Elliot made good time. They were halfway to Brunel Hall. Alexandra nestled her head against The Bootmaker and he kissed her forehead. That moment of intimacy was ended by a gunshot, which narrowly missed the left rear wheel of the hackney.
Swiveling around, Sir Elliot saw Mr. Helpmann aiming for a second shot. Mrs. Foucault, seated next to him, also had a pistol, which was smoking from the first shot.
Sir Elliot and The Bootmaker had underestimated their foes, assuming they would not risk an encounter at Mr. Brunel’s mansion, given that his butler and other male servants would join the fray. Mrs. Foucault and Mr. Helpmann had their own plan; to recover Countess Gladstone after killing her allies.
As the second bullet struck the back of the hackney, The Bootmaker leaned out the window and levelled his pistol at Mr. Helpmann, but his shot missed.
Sir Elliot counted on the hackney being faster than the Landau carriage that pulled the kidnapper’s wagon. At a long bend in the road, Sir Elliot turned his head and could not see the carriage. His relief was fleeting. What he had not counted on was the recklessness with which Mr. Helpmann drove. He whipped his horses mercilessly and seemed unaware of the dangerous twists and turns of the narrow thoroughfare.
When it became apparent that Mr. Helpmann’s carriage was making up ground, The Bootmaker called out that he would provide cover so Sir Elliot could drive faster. As The Bootmaker leaned out of the carriage and took aim at Mr. Helpmann, there was a gunshot and The Bootmaker fell backward.
Alexandra screamed as he came to rest across her body, blood gushing from his head. The bullet had struck him in the left eye, shattering his glasses, before lodging in his head. She shouted to Sir Elliot that Mr. Brunel had been wounded.
Firing the gun had prevented Mr. Helpmann from holding the reins with both hands. The carriage skittered off the side of the road and went over a cliff. Sir Elliot and Alexandra could hear the carriage as it crashed in the valley, killing Mr. Helpmann and Mrs. Foucault instantly.
Sir Elliot decided to rush toward Brunel Hall, which he could see in the distance, and summon a doctor. He did not know that The Bootmaker was already dead. Opening the carriage door minutes later, he saw Alexandra cradling his head, the white sheet she wore covered with blood.
Shortly after meeting Alexandra, The Bootmaker had dreamed of a young woman with amber hair. He had awoken with a start. In the dream, she was standing at the side of a grave as someone shoveled dirt onto the coffin.
On a cold, blustery day, Alexandra stood by the side of The Bootmaker’s grave as Sir Elliot shoveled dirt onto the coffin. They were joined by Lady Blaylock, as well as The Bootmaker’s butler and other servants.
Alexandra wore the same veil and black satin dress she had worn at the funeral of her husband, Viscount Charles Gladstone, who had been killed in a dirigible accident.
On this day, as ravens kept watch from gnarled trees with branches swaying wildly from a coming storm, she silently told herself how foolish she had been.
A week ago, I had thought that I needed to make a choice among suitors.
Would it be Mr. Brunel, an old man whose offer to make me a special pair of boots set me on the path to sexual ecstasy and who taught me so much about science, mathematics, and inventing?
Would it be the younger version of The Bootmaker, who travels back in time and populates my fantasies with his eyes of pale blue, his hair wavy and blond, and his body trim and muscular.
Or would it be The Bootmaker’s steam machines, which hold the key to my unspoken and forbidden desires?
Fate had made the decision. It wasn’t my decision to make, if it ever had been. The machines survived and I will invent new ones.
The Bootmaker had left Brunel Hall to Alexandra in his will. She moved there permanently after selling her stately residence in London.
Sir Elliot, as a high-ranking officer with The Bank of England, managed The Bootmaker’s estate. He gave Alexandra a letter that Mr. Brunel had written to her in case he suffered an untimely death. She broke the envelope’s familiar seal of black wax, featuring the distinctive letter B.
Or should I say my dearest Alexandra. My hope is that this letter never meets your eyes, for it means that I have not had the chance to bid you farewell. But as you know, I have enemies, extremists who pose a danger to me and others, including you. History will not be kind to their cause, but I must take the proper precautions in case I suffer a violent death. I write this only hours after your kidnapping.
Shortly after we met, I told Lady Blaylock that you could reshape me. You have done so. The woman who sought a stylish pair of leather boots also is the woman who had the courage to pursue her interest in inventing, science, and mathematics. You did so at a time when much of our society does not welcome that as a woman’s role.
I left Brunel Hall in my will to you as a laboratory to bring your current and future work to fruition. The world will not miss a bootmaker (or a budding corset-maker) like me. But it will be a diminished place if a woman like you does not have an opportunity to pursue her ambitions. I know that the machines you invent will benefit society, make people’s lives easier, healthier, and more interesting.
If you want to continue my hobby of inventing steam machines, to alter the relationship between men and women in a positive manner – as I once described them to you -- I encourage you to do so. If you will permit me, society cannot have enough fucking machines.
The most recent machine I built for you is behind a locked door at the end of the work room hallway. It’s a special gift for you, one that I trust you will enjoy for many years because it is way before its time.
Yours in appreciation,
Inside the envelope which contained The Bootmaker’s letter, there was a key to that locked room. Alexandra wore it on a necklace, close to her heart, for the rest of her life.