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Chapter One

“Stop! Doctor Watson! My bottom! No!”

With a flailing, nearly nude young aristocrat in his grasp, Doctor John Watson was not inclined to acquiesce to the request for several reasons. First among them was the simple fact that he was not done spanking the young lady. Her bottom was pink, but it would become much, much redder before her lesson was learned.

In spite of his patient’s vigorous struggles, she was not likely to escape before he was done with her. He was tall, with a flashing dark eye and well formed features that spoke to good breeding. His teeth were white and his back was strong and his physique was one equally suited to dancing, combat, swimming or thoroughly thrashing a deserving minx such as the one now putting her hand back to cover her cheeks. It was a futile effort, owing to the delicacy of her hand and the relative girth of her rear. He swatted her hand away, and gave her a very firm slap to discourage any further attempts at avoiding punishment.

“Stop that whining this instant!” He gave the order crisply. “I had warned you about your behavior, had I not, Miss Thistleborne?”

Miss Thistleborne of the Cheswick Thistlebornes was fifteenth in line to the throne of England, but that meant little to the man whose palm met her pleasantly plump cheeks with swift strokes.

“I… owieow!”

“A doctor’s orders are to be obeyed,” he said firmly in response to her incoherent wail. “I told you to take your supplements daily, did I not? And you have refused them all.”

“They taste foul!”

“Do they taste worse than your backside feels?” He laid an additional swat against the squirming maidenly cheeks so that the patient might be able to better make a comparison. Her fine skirts had been thrown up over her back; her white linen undergarments were loosened and wound about her knees. What had started as a simple re-visit to ensure that treatment was going as planned, had turned into a serious disciplinary interlude for Miss Thistleborne.

John was in demand for quite a number of well to do ladies and gentlemen, not only because of his excellence as a physician, but because he demanded strict compliance from those in his care. He saw the spanking he was delivering as no less a part of the treatment than the fish oil and daily walks he had prescribed upon his previous visit to Thistleborne Manor.

Though Miss Thistleborne protested at the top of her lungs, his large, hard palm met with her bottom three dozen more times. She was surely somewhat used to chastisement, no well brought up young woman reached the age of eighteen, as Miss Thistleborne had, without being corrected at some point. The fact that she still seemed to be in need of corporal discipline was of no great surprise to John Watson. In his experience, a great many ladies needed some form of physical encouragement to take care of themselves.

Under the searing influence of his palm, the lady soon began to express her apologies and to make promises of obedience and compliance in the future. “I will take my supplements and exercise, Doctor, I do promise I will!”

“You will,” John agreed. “And if you do not, I shall return with a tawse.”

With that, he lowered Miss Thistleborne’s skirts, helped her up from his lap and then pointed to the corner of the drawing room.

“Stand there, young lady while I make a note. I will be adding suppositories to your regime.”

“Suppositories!”

“There will be no complaints regarding the taste, at least,” he said, his cheek dimpling for a moment as his stern facade fell. It returned as soon as his patient’s eyes were lifted toward him. She was squirming visibly now, more stimulated by the notion of a healthy capsule in her bottom than the burning of her cheeks.

John opened a little satchel in which were several herbal suppositories for the restoration of vigor and the relieving of abdominal discomfort. The young lady had complained of a sore stomach, prompting his visit, although his examination had revealed no serious issues and he was fairly certain that the story had been just that, a story.

“Bend over,” he said. “Touch your toes.”

Miss Thistleborne did as she was told and her skirts were once again raised. John parted her cheeks with one hand and pressed a lubricated finger to her bottom hole with the other. The maiden let out a most pleasing gasp as he gently massaged the pad of his finger against the reluctant orifice, tenderly convincing her body to relax enough to allow his digit passage inside the tight ring of muscle.

“Oh, Doctor!” she gasped as his finger popped inside. John had not failed to notice that during her spanking, fine Miss Thistleborne had clearly become somewhat aroused. There was a gleam between her lower lips, which were flowering with a particular female scent. John plumbed the young lady’s bottom for a minute before withdrawing his finger and popping a cylindrical tablet into her bottom, pressing it as deep inside her as his digit would allow.

Miss Thistleborne’s reaction was rather sweet, a gasp and then a little moan.

John withdrew his finger one last time, wiped it on a clean alcohol infused swab and patted her rosy red cheek. “All done for now,” he said. “You may run along, I will make my recommendations for further treatment in writing to your father.”

Miss Thistleborne giggled and stepped out of her undergarments, grasping them against her chest as she lingered for a moment or two making wordless eyes at him.

“Is there something else I can do for you, Miss Thistleborne? Would you like your cheeks re-warmed?”

That was enough to make her flee the room without further ado. John smiled to himself as he packed up his case. She was a charming young lady and soon to be married, so he had heard. Her new husband would have his hands full with her.

There was no time to tarry at Thistleborne Manor. He had another appointment with a new patient whom he was seeing as a favor to a friend of his maiden aunt. She was the Lady Mary Holmes, a woman from a wealthy family and living by independent means in Baker Street.

The journey from Thistleborne to Baker Street was fairly extensive, but he made it with the knowledge that he would be suitably compensated. Tending to the cosseted daughters of the wealthy was rewarding in more ways than one, a fortunate thing for him as he was without any other source of income.

Upon arrival at the Holmes residence he rapped upon the door, waited a moment or two, then knocked again. There was no response. He checked his pocket watch and knocked yet again. This time there was a shuffling and then a slow creaking as the door was drawn open slowly to reveal the somewhat shrunken apparition of what he assumed was a butler.

“My name is Doctor Watson,” John said. “And I am here to see Lady Mary Holmes.”

“I am Hudson,” the old man replied. “And Lady Mary isn’t here.” He made to shut the door again, but John put his shined boot in the doorjamb, preventing its closure.

“I am the doctor,” John repeated. “I was called to see Lady Mary Holmes.”

Hudson shook himself like an old dog and tried to explain more thoroughly. “Lady Mary Holmes is gone, sir. Ain’t here, sir. She’s somewhere else, sir.”

Doctor Watson’s features assumed an expression of undeniable frustration. “I am to inspect her,” he said. “She has been complaining of a cold.”

“That be partly true, sir. She has been suffering with a cold to be sure, but she’s not been complaining. It’s her meddling aunt who laid the complaint on her behalf, I’ll wager.”

“When might she come home?”

The question prompted little more than a shrug, which was not followed by a verbal response until it became apparent that the glowering doctor was not satisfied. “She stays out all hours. Keeps her own hours, does the Lady Mary.”

“But she is unmarried, is she not? And a young lady.”

“Twenty-one years of age,” Hudson replied. “A vowed spinster.”

“I hardly think a lady of twenty-one could be called a spinster.”

“Lady Mary would have it no other way, sir,” Hudson said. “No interest in menfolk for her. Too busy with her work, she is.”

John had heard all manner of tales about the young Lady Mary Holmes. Tales of her exploits were rife in good society, which she was arguably not so much a part of as a curiosity for.

“Do you know where her work might have taken her?”

“She said something about the Rat’s Shank,” Hudson said.

At first John was almost certain he must have misheard the man. The Rat’s Shank was a well known den of iniquity and the mere mention of its name made John’s brows rise. “Are you certain? You say she has gone to the Rat’s Shank?”

“Oh yes, sir. Lady Mary goes where she pleases.”

“I do not imagine her father, the Lord Holmes, would approve.”

“Isn’t my place to say, sir,” Hudson replied. “The Lady Mary Holmes lives her life as she pleases, that much I can say. I’ll let her know you called in, sir.”

That was not a satisfactory state of affairs in Doctor Watson’s mind. It was quite obvious to him that he had stumbled upon a situation in dire need of rectification. A young lady of good breeding could not be allowed to wander London by herself, especially not when her wanderings took her into dens of depravity and danger alike.

He took a hansom cab as far as the driver would take him, and then walked the rest of the way to the Rat’s Shank. The establishment was located in one of the more dangerous districts in the East End, so perilous a place that men of moral character and concern for their person and property would not walk among those who called it home.

As he passed by various pickpockets, drunks and cursing devils, John was forced to consider that Hudson might have sent him on a fool’s errand, or worse, into the arms of criminal comrades. He was glad for the stout walking cane he carried, and made sure to keep it at a position where it might be most useful for cracking the skull of anyone who tried to interfere with his person.

He entered the Rat’s Shank without incident, finding it only half-full for it was not past noon and most drunks were still sleeping off the previous evening’s indulgences.

“Excuse me,” he said, addressing the heap of cloth and gristle that passed for a publican. “Have you seen a young lady by the name of Holmes?”

One eye turned toward him, the other remained staring into the ether, being made of glass. “I might ‘ave.”

“You might have?”

The man made a grimace, rotten teeth and fetid breath causing Doctor Watson to withdraw a step. “Silver helps me think, Doctor.”

“Bribery and blackmail,” John observed. “Very well, man, have your piece of silver.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a coin and tossed it on the bar.

It was snatched up quickly and secreted in the publican’s pouch. A head full of greasy hair was nodded toward the floor. “She’s down below.”

Now thoroughly concerned for the Lady Mary, John hastened down rickety stairs that were lit diffusely by a glow from a lamp in the cellar. With each step, his concern grew. What had befallen the young lady? Had she been imprisoned or in some way interfered with?

“Blast and buggeration!”

Unmistakable female tones carried the words to his ears. He took the last of the stairs in one long stride and found himself staring at the rear end of a woman wearing fine brown skirts and long leather boots. The rest of her person was obscured, pressed beneath a low table, from which edifying noises were arising.

“Lady Mary Holmes?”

There was a rustling, and then the lady pulled her face out, covered in dust and ash and cobwebs, which she blew from her long eyelashes by protruding her lower lip.

“What on earth are you doing?” John asked the question after the fashion of a stern schoolmaster.

“Investigating, Doctor. I have been forbidden from detecting, but not a word has been said about investigating.” Her eyes gleamed with intellect and mischief alike.

The Lady Mary was undeniably attractive. She was possessed of dark hair, which she wore in a braid about her head, brown eyes and a heart shaped face. She was the fifth daughter of the Lord Holmes, a man with eleven offspring in total, and as such had been somewhat overlooked until her eighteenth birthday, at which point the lord had been made aware of the existence of his offspring and had immediately forgotten it again. John knew this, as it was a popular anecdote told at least once per year by Lady Mary Holmes’ aunt, with whom he was acquainted, due to the closely knit nature of the well to do.

He had not met Lady Mary Holmes herself before, largely owing to the fact that the young lady was ten years his junior and at the time she had attained her majority he had been sent overseas to serve the Empire. She was now twenty-one years of age, and already gaining a considerable reputation in a number of circles. Among her aunt’s fellows she was regarded as something of a renegade, a black sheep. Amid the criminal element, her name was cursed. And to those who could turn to no other, victims of crimes unsolved by the constabulary, she was as an angel.

She had a reputation for deduction, and had already surmised that he was a doctor, but his bag told even the simplest of observers that much and he was not overly impressed. She lifted a delicate hand, in which were clutched long fibrous strands of some kind of hair or fur.

“Do you know what this is?” She held the fibers underneath John’s nose.

“I could not begin to imagine, madam.”

“This is the undercoat of a marmot.” She narrowed her eyes and spoke to him in the manner of a confidante. “I’m telling you, Doctor. There is something afoot here. Something dangerous and underhanded. Something truly perverse.”

“A marmot?”

“An Alaska marmot, to be precise.” She lifted her finely shaped nose to the non-existent wind and sniffed like a bloodhound. “Yes, a westerly. Of course, it all makes sense now... oo-oooo achooo!”

She sneezed violently and coughed at the same time, producing a wet, chesty sound that concerned John greatly. He wasted no further time in introducing himself.

“Lady Mary. My name is Doctor John Watson. I have been engaged by your family due to your ill-health, and I must insist that you submit for examination immediately.”

“Oh you must insist, must you?” She let out a little laugh and her gaze traveled up and down his lean form. “What right does a man freshly returned from India, with a slew of unpaid bills and a disgruntled manservant have to insist that I allow him to examine me?”

“It is true that I returned from India a few months ago,” he said, hiding his surprise at her comments. “You might discern that from the tan of my skin. But what makes you think I have a slew of unpaid bills and a disgruntled manservant?”

“Elementary.” She smiled. “No doctor chases a patient halfway across London and down into the basement of a den of iniquity unless he is in need of the fee. As for the disgruntled manservant, he has over starched your collar, laced your shoes overly tight and there is a stain on the back of your left trouser leg which he would surely have known about. He could be incompetent, but you don’t seem like the sort of man who tolerates incompetence, therefore you have a capable manservant who is taking out some petty frustration upon your person.”

“Very astute, young lady,” John said. “Permit me to make some observations of my own. You are covered in all manner of filth, likely breathing in the droppings of rats and other vermin, and suffering from a heavy cold which will, in all likelihood, turn into a chest infection if you are not taken care of properly.”

Mary coughed delicately into the elbow of her dress sleeve. “A cold is a minor inconvenience,” she said dismissively. “This case is far more important.”

“I must respectfully disagree,” John said. “And I must likewise insist that we repair to your home, so that I might conduct a thorough inspection of your person.”

“I’m afraid that will not be possible,” Mary replied. “I must pay a visit to a certain matchmaker with a taste for exotic pets.”

“Certainly not!” John’s handsome features became quite stern. “Exposure to the phosphorus fumes of a match factory would likely exacerbate your condition.”

Mary lifted her skirts high enough to allow her to clamber out from amid the general debris. “Good day, Doctor Watson,” she said dismissively, as if he had not spoken at all. “Send your bill to my aunt, I am sure she will be pleased to pay it.”

Her progress was impeded when the good doctor’s hand fastened around her upper arm. He held her in place and looked down at her with a dark glare. “I fear you are not understanding me,” he said in gravelly tones. “I am not requesting your presence at your apartment in Baker Street. I am requiring it.”

The Lady Mary Holmes was not tall enough to look down her nose at him, but she somehow contrived to fix him with a withering stare in spite of her relatively slight stature. “I do not know if this fact has come to your attention,” she said in icy tones. “But you appear to have laid hands on me, Doctor. I do not recommend that as a course of action if you value your health. I am very well versed in several arts of self defense, including Bartitsu.”

“A young lady such as yourself needs to mind those who have her best interests at heart,” John replied. “And I assure you, if you were to deploy your skills against me, you would soon find that to be a grave error.”

There was something in his eye that seemed to convince Mary, for she did not remove his kneecaps with one swift kick, nor did she re-align his spine with a flick of her fingers. She did, however, disengage her arm from his grip.

“You are a most tedious man,” she declared. “But, as you insist, we will return to Baker Street and I will allow you a brief examination on the condition that you depart immediately once it is completed and concern yourself no further with me or my affairs.”

“I will not make any such bargains,” John replied. “I will promise you only that if you return to Baker Street this instant, and if you should submit to as extensive an examination as is necessary, I will temporarily refrain from giving you the thrashing you seem to so sorely deserve.”

Such a statement might have provoked outrage from a spoiled woman, or coquettish giggling from a flirt. Mary Holmes stood her ground and cocked her head to the side. “We shall see,” she replied enigmatically, showing very little concern and certainly no fear.

John followed Lady Mary out of the Rat’s Shank, noting that she slipped a silver guinea to a man lounging beside the door who seemed insensate until she passed him his fee. What she was paying for was not immediately obvious. It was, however, exceptionally obvious that she was at home among those who would usually have been considered the dregs of society by a woman of her class.

John found himself much intrigued by this high born lady who seemed intent on rejecting much of the responsibilities of her station to go about solving crimes. She was pleasing and charming in her appearance and dress. In terms of appearance she certainly would not have been out of place in Thistleborne Manor, but it was almost certain that the inner workings of this young woman were not at all like those of her peers.

“Come, Doctor,” she called over her shoulder as she set off down the narrow alley at a pace not at all suitable for restrained comportment. “We must not tarry! There are important things to be done.”

John lost sight of his patient somewhere along the way and ended up resorting to hansom cab. He repaired to Baker Street, where he once more knocked upon the door. He did not imagine that Lady Mary might be there as yet, but it was she who answered.

“You are remarkably tardy,” she said, leaving the door open as she retreated indoors. “There is much to be done. Did I not mention that there was much to be done?”

John followed her into the house, shutting the door behind him, as the old man Hudson was nowhere to be seen.

“Come into the kitchen!” Lady Mary called out to him. “You might offer me your expertise.”

He followed the sound of her voice, crossing through a drawing room, into a small passage and thence into a kitchen where his patient presented him with a cup of tea.

“What do you think of this?”

At last, some semblance of civilized behavior from the young lady. Perhaps there was some hope for Mary Holmes after all. John took the cup and sipped at it. The brew was strong, slightly acidic and a little too cool for his tastes, but he made pleasant noises in spite of that. “Very pleasing,” he said.

Mary cocked her head to the side and smiled. “You cannot taste the cyanide at all, can you?”

John stared at her, the warm liquid still swilling about his lips for a brief moment before he spat the concoction back into the cup. “Do you mean to tell me that this tea was poisoned?”

“Don’t worry,” she said with a reckless smile. “It was only a passingly small dose, and I have sodium nitrite on hand. You would not be terribly put out, I assure you. You didn’t swallow any, did you?”

“Mary Holmes,” he said, placing cup and saucer on the table in front of him. “You will go to the drawing room, you will disrobe and you will prepare yourself for what I assure you is going to be a very thorough thrashing.”

Mary laughed. “We don’t have time for that,” she said. “The tea will get cold.”

“Young lady—”

BANG! BANG! BANG!

A frantic knocking at the front door interrupted what was sure to have been a very stern tirade from the good doctor, and before he could correct or chastise her to any effect, she flew out of the room on her way to answer the increasingly desperate summons.

 


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