A historical series with lesbian and kink themes. Delphine – a young French aristocrat attends an English boarding school run by a malicious headmistress. My co-writer is EveRay – Read her previous chapter (15) here or start at episode 1 and use the tag Delphine to follow our series so far:
It wasn’t ideal to run away, I had laid plans and intended to play a waiting game. I’m confident my silence and apparent compliance would make Miss Ranson over confident – hadn’t she already shown her hand?
Unfortunately the public humiliation of being made to run knickerless round the lacrosse pitch, where the whole school might see, had broken Belinda’s spirit. She began stowing clean underwear and essentials in a handbag the moment we returned to our dorm. The sobs she’d held back in our headmistress’ study wracked her body, pulling her face into alarming shapes of distress. If she was leaving, I have to accompany her, she is not worldly wise.
The station is quiet as we purchase tickets to London and only a man in an ugly tweed suit, carrying a battered Gladstone bag, boards at the same time as us, unfortunately. I feel gloomy knowing the school will question the station master and he’ll remember us clearly. Belinda, however, brightens considerably as the scenery flies past the window and the places we stop become less suburban and more built up and grimy.
Disembarking at Waterloo, we hail a cab to take us straight to the dingy British restaurant in Soho where I ate on my previous visit with Miss Ranson. Belinda’s mood’s always better if she isn’t hungry, and I needed time to think. Everything on the menu sounds disgusting, Toad in the Hole, Shepherd’s Pie, how am I to eat these things? I order soup and a crusty roll, hoping to keep my options safe, my mind is racing with plans.
“You have your brother’s number?” I quiz Belinda.
“Ye-es,” she answers uncertainly, “but he’ll be working. I doubt we can speak to him.”
“You will call and leave a message, arrange a time for him to call us back here.” I gesture towards the phone booth in the corner. She rises reluctantly, taking change to pay for her call.
I crumble the crust of my roll as I wait; so much of my plan hangs on Jeremy’s ability to gather information on the list of names I sent him from the original document which remains hidden at the stables.
When Bel returns she smiles weakly. “His Captain said he would be free to call us at 5.15. Will we stay here until then?”
“No, I want to visit where Miss Ranson takes herself on her London trips.”
“Oh!” she pouted, “I was looking forward to some spotted dick and custard, it’s my favourite.”
I swallow my grimace at another disgusting food name. “Later my darling, that can be your reward for a successful mission of spying.” I gesture to the bored looking waitress who immediately brings our bill. Once it’s settled we put on coats and gloves and head onto the street.
It only takes us two wrong turns before I find the large house which I had seen Miss Ranson visit months ago. There’s a dirty rectangle where a nameplate has been unscrewed, but still I knock on the door. After some delay, it’s answered by a sourfaced looking woman with chapped red hands and a scarf tied to hold her hair off her face.
“Yes?” She’s as surly as she looks.
“What is this place?” I demand.
“Offices,” she looks furtive now.
“It wasn’t always offices, I came here with my Papa.”
“Oh did ya now? Well then you can clear off again, you filthy bitch. All them girls what worked here was rounded up and taken to the cop shop. You’re lucky you slipped through the net.”
She studies me and Belinda with disdain. “As for that bitch what ran this place, Miss Spencer-Harrington,” the woman’s lips tighten like a cat’s pucker, “she got just what she deserved.”
“And what is that?” Belinda asks; her eyes are round and her eyebrows have risen, invisible behind her golden fringe.
“Prison! She’s serving time at her majesty’s pleasure. Which ain’t no ‘oliday camp. Bring her down a peg or two. Let that be a warning to girls like you – your la-di-da manners and cut-glass accents won’t save ya! Not when you’ve been doing shameful things, filthy things. Good riddance!”
She shuts the door in our faces, and I feel as shocked as Belinda looks, although for a different reason. I’d guessed the club was a front for a house of ill repute, I’d realised that Catherine Spencer-Harrington was its Madam, but this outcome had shattered my plan to use my knowledge of Spencer-Harrington’s operation to bring down Miss Ranson. What can I do now, when she’s already been exposed and tried for her crimes?
I could kick myself for not keeping abreast of the news, despite not having daily access to radio or television, there were always newspapers in the Reading Room. Chiding myself bitterly, I guide my friend away from the innocuous looking building.
“What went on in that place?” Belinda, ever the innocent, tries to grasp the reality behind the facade.
“Everything and anything, my darling. The men who visited had enough money to pay for any of their desires to be met.”
“Some women too, I suppose. Miss Ranson visited, so I imagine there were others. You know she likes girls – that’s why she’s so obsessed with us.”
Belinda shudders and I grab her hand. “Let’s look at beautiful dresses until it’s time for your brother to call. Take me to the shops.”
The frown lines immediately clear from her pretty face, and she steps with purpose towards the main streets where we are quickly swallowed into the crowds.
We breeze into the British restaurant just before 5; I’m concerned we don’t miss Jeremy’s call, Bel is eager to rest her tired feet.
“Hello dearies, weren’t you in here earlier?” the waitress smiles, placing the gravy splashed menu cards in front of us.
I’m not in the mood for niceties, but Belinda, always friendly, chatters away and the waitress takes our orders – a toasted currant bun for me and the promised spotted dick and custard for Belinda, served with a pot of tea.
“I saw you go down Frith Street,” the waitress says conversationally when she brings our food. “There was quite a ker-fuffle there a couple of weeks back, police cars, a black Mariah, people dragged off in handcuffs.”
“Yeah -” she speaks in a breathy way, revealing her delight in sharing salacious gossip. “Loads of people got arrested. It seems that the Gentleman’s Retreat was not quite proper.” She looks at us pointedly to gauge whether we understand. “See that fella in the corner? He was employed there. Now he spends most days in here, making a plate of kippers and pot of tea last for hours.”
We both try to look at the slender man wearing a badly fitting suit without making it obvious.
“Serve him a pot of tea & some toast, but charge it to our bill,” I say decisively. The waitress looks surprised, but does as I ask.
At that moment the phone in the booth begins to ring, so Belinda moves to answer it, immediately beginning an animated conversation with her brother. I follow her and indicate that I want to speak, so she passes the receiver to me.
“Hello Jeremy, thank you for calling back. Yes, a bit of a fix. You got my letter? Were you able to … Mmm, OK. I see. The thing is, my plan is broken. Oh … you saw it in the paper? No – not such an easy target … still that could be helpful, if they don’t close ranks. Mmm, yes I see… Tonight I suppose. She thought your parents … Already? I’m surprised. Well good, we’ve discomforted her. Yes, yes, thank-you Jeremy. Here she is, Au Revoir.”
I pass the phone to Belinda. As I turn back to our table, I make eye contact with the man at the window table. He inclines his head to indicate the empty chair opposite him, so I walk over and sit.
“Thank you for my tea,” his voice is soft, “can I repay your kindness in some way?”
As he studies me with clear blue eyes, I notice his long sweeping lashes.
“A little information perhaps?”
“You’re French,” he observes.
“Oui. The Gentleman’s Retreat … you worked there?” He nods. “As what? You will not shock me – I have met Catherine Spencer-Harrington, I know what she was.”
“I worked as a maid for milady,” he lowers his eyes, and tucks his hair behind his ear. It’s such a feminine gesture, that I feel an understanding wash over me.
“So you saw who came and went through its doors?”
“Yes, and I learned some names.”
“Do you recall a Miss Ranson?” Immediately a smile quirks his lips and I buzz with excitement.
“Certainly – she knows milady from before the Retreat was established, when milady plied her trade from hotels. I was her maid then too.”
Belinda watches us curiously, as I glean as much information from the maid, known as Trudy, as I can. I note down the address where he has rooms and promise to send money if he can provide specific information about Miss Ranson’s visits – dates and names of hotels – he says he’s kept a diary and can check.
With much more hope than before, I return to Belinda at our table.
“We must return to St Faith’s,” I tell her, grasping her hand encouragingly when she grimaces. “I’m sorry my darling, but I don’t have enough cash for a hotel, and besides, the school has already contacted your parents.”
“Yes, Jeremy said as much.” Again, her eyes are swimming with tears. “Oh Bin, we’ll be in such trouble.”
“Not as much as you think, if we play our hand with care.” I toss my hair defiantly. “You have accompanied me to the dentist, now we return in time for evensong and supper. Miss Ranson herself is at fault for lack of care, for allowing us to leave the school grounds unsupervised. If she has already raised the alarm with your Maman, my Papa may also have been contacted. I can promise this will not go well for her.” I pat my girl’s hand reassuringly.
“We have done some good spying today,” I rise and pull Belinda to her feet. A ten shilling note left on a saucer covers our bill and Trudy’s tea. I smile at my new informant as we leave the restaurant.
It’s relatively easy for two pretty girls to hail a cab when it’s not raining, and we are soon at Waterloo, waiting on a platform for the train back to Hernmere. Miss Ranson can’t possibly protect herself from the shitstorm that is coming, but I, Delphine de Lotbiniere, am well prepared.