by Jackie J
The Bishop and Swinney, having left Buckshire manor shortly after the departure of the Constables and their prisoner, Lady Hogarth and Annabella sat with Lord Edmund. Lord Edmund still coming to terms with how Constance had been spirited away by the constables to Whitegate prison.
“You know Edmund, if I suspected you were involved in seeking my demise, to become one of the Countesses maid’s, you would be joining her at Whitegate. I understand how she manipulated you and your performance earlier, well I would be lying if I said I was not impressed, but to business.”
“You will continue with your work for Buckshire manor, much the same as you did for my father the Earl, however, I will expect you to cover all the tenants not just those you had selected. Your allowance will remain unchanged and will remain so. I warn you though, any contact with the Countess and your allowance will cease and I will have no problem in publicising your adulterous relationship with Constance during my father’s illness. The consequences for you which you are well aware on both counts.”
Despite Lord Edmunds explanation, of how the Countess had contrived to have him to her bed, Maud could find no pity or forgiveness for his shameless acts of betrayal of her brother and suspected his adulterous affair had not brought its own pleasures.
Maud stood and pointed to the door.
“I suggest you leave before my niece changes her mind; I doubt we will ever meet again.”
At the request of her Mistress Jarvis served tea.
Annabella was anxious to know if Mrs Hardwick had confirmed her availability and Martha, laying the tea tray on the table confirmed she had and now awaited further instruction.
Dusk and a veiling mist were settling over the open moor when the custodial carriage halted outside the entrance of Whitegate prison. A remote and foreboding place the large white gates, from which the prison drew its name, slowly cranked open. Whilst never having actually visited Whitegate the Countess knew of it well. Her departed husband, the Earl, was an admired patron and benefactor of the establishment and Constance had reluctantly attended numerous charity events in the prisons name. If Constance had visited previously, known the regime of the prison, overseen by the Matron-Governess, Miss Stanford Brown, she would have surely been more eager to don the apron for Annabella?
Inside the fortifications of Whitegate and remaining manacled the Countess was pulled from the carriage and escorted into a bleak stone walled chamber. The main solid door behind her slammed shut and with the sound of the locking bolts sliding into place the manacles were removed from Constance’s wrists. The two constables acknowledged to three Large women who entered the chamber.
Constance apprehensive and unsure shivered in the dampness of the place staying silent.
“Prisoner Montgomery on remand, on the authority of the Constable of Buckshire pending charges being filed for fraud.”
The three warders stared at the elegant prisoner brought before them, the way she was dressed, her demeanour, head held regally high, complexion, and hair, not the typical inmate brought to Whitegate.
Having had the official form, for the prisoner transfer, signed the two constables left through an unbolted then re bolted side door leaving the Countess alone with the three women one of which was Miss Stanford Brown, the prison Matron-Governess.
The Matron stood close to the shivering Countess a wicked smile on her face.
“Cold, are we? Well Montgomery, whilst you are here you are prisoner……
The Matron looked down onto her register for the next prisoner number
18761156. That is all you are here at Whitegate a number, and nothing more. Remember that number well.”
Whilst somewhat intimidated by the stature of this woman Constance had to let this woman know who she was, a number indeed, surely not for a Countess?
“Miss, I understand you have a prison to run, but I am here by mistake and will not be long in your charge. When the injustice I have suffered is exposed by my Advocate, who Lord Edmund Fitzroy is engaging, I would hate to report negatively on my brief time here. I am Countess Montgomery of Buckshire manor, my late husband the Earl was a patron of this prison”
The two lower ranked ladies in attendance, despite their training to treat each through the gates of Whitegate equally, were impressed. A Countess, and she looked every part of he proclaimed social rank.
The Matron seeing how the two warders looked at the new prisoner was going to make an example of the new inmate. A Countess she may be but a felon she definitely was, or she would not be at Whitegate.
“Well I am afraid there will be no red carpet for you 18761156, I have no interest in why you are here only that you are”
Turning to her two warders she smiled
“Take the prisoner and process it through reception, full reception mind, and then up to my office.”
Bleak stone walled corridors with minimal light, through numerous barred and locked gates, Constance kept pace with her jailers.
A reluctance to strip was short lived and naked against a sluice wall 18761156 was first deloused then hosed down. The fine perfume of the Countess replaced by the stench of disinfectant about her. A small rough towel in her grasp 18761156 was forced down onto a stool and her wet hair roughly gripped, with her shoulders squeezed to pain she was held fast, and the clipping shears did their work. Forced to her feet, treading over the stone flags strewn with her hacked hair, 18761156 was given her prison clothing. A thin grey smock and clogs. A reluctance to dry herself and dress had brought the first whack of a cane to her buttocks. The Countess had protested at every stage despite being told to be silent and warned of the consequences if she did not. The cork bar now strapped tightly into her mouth was painful. Muted, tears were now in her defiant angry eyes. More strokes of the cane had 18761156 more compliant to the instruction of the warders.
The Matron had never met the current Countess of Buckshire before but was aware of the Earls patronage of Whitegate. She had met the Earls first wife at a number of charity events and found her a little strange and her ideas about the treatment of prisoners even stranger but, at the insistence of the Earl, some of those ideas had become accepted. Miss Stanford Brown was not surprised when she heard of her demise. A look back through the records made her smile. Little could the Earl have known that it would be his wife that would be subjected to the harsh conditions he and his first wife had insisted on for inmates, a condition of his generosity towards the institution.
It was not her position to question why but the Matron was intrigued what the fraud was that brought the Countess of Buckshire, prisoner 18761156, to Whitegates. The charges must be serious and beyond doubt for the Constable to commit the Countess, now 18761156, to Whitegates. Those with Lesser charges and defendable crimes would be held at Pennington remand?
18761156 was brought up the stone steps and paraded into the Governess’s office as all new arrivals at Whitegate were.
With the two warders either side of the prisoner the Matron curled her lip and stepped forward. Pleased with its preparation but noting an already disregard for instructions it had been given. Such indiscipline having already been rewarded with its gagging.
There was defiance in the eyes of 18761156 and there was no slackness in its gag, droll running freely from the corner of its mouth. Its hair cropped, wearing a regulation prison smock and clogs, nothing between 18761156 and the many other prisoners brought before her on their arrival at Whitegate.
The Matron returned to her high- backed chair behind her desk.
“Bring 18761156 forward.”
Constance was pulled in front of the desk slobbering through her gag to speak
The Matron drawing a thin cane from the side of the desk whacked it down bringing silence from her prisoner.
“18761156 unless you wish to remain gagged you will learn to speak when spoken to, do you understand?”
Constance nodded and the Matron motioned for the gag to be removed which it was.
“To ensure there are no further misunderstands of your status here at Whitegate. I have been the Governess-matron at Whitegate for more years than I can remember. In that time, I have not received one prisoner, not one, such as yourself, who was not guilty as charged, more often than not by confession. The only decision that remains for the courts is how long you will be incarcerated here.
At Whitegate you are 18761156, nothing more nothing less, what you were previously is of no concern here behind these walls. You will obey the rules which are quite simple, do nothing unless told you can. You may be pleased to know it was your late husband’s first wife who simplified the rules at Whitegate and indeed introduced the gagging, quite ironic under the circumstance don’t you think. The last and most important thing you will need to know, you will address me as Mistress and my associates Miss. Now I can see you have something to say, but I would remind you to be careful with your words 18761156.
Constance her mouth sore was understandably in a state of shock, her presumed privilege and social rank had counted for nothing the way she had been treated. She felt and indeed looked wretched in the ill- fitting grey smock and clogs having been disinfected, sluiced, and sheared no better than a farm animal. She could not stay here she couldn’t, and her words were hard to form.
“Please Mistress… I, I shouldn’t be here I shouldn’t, please contact Lord Edmund Fitzroy, or Miss Annabella Montgomery, at Buckshire manor, my step- daughter, I must see them, I must.”
Miss Stanford Brown took a perverse pleasure in seeing the Countess humbled, looking like she did, and begging before her.
“But of course, Visitors, only allowed by my invitation, may visit Whitegate at the end of each month and, given you are no trouble to my warders, an invitation will be issued.”
The end of the month, that was three weeks away, surely the Governess could contact them sooner and made that plain?
Constance’s unheeded pleading turned into a tirade that she soon regretted being restrained and the cork gag strapped back tightly into her mouth.
The Matron stood from her desk.
“So, no visitors for you this month 18761156. Take 18761156 to the cells restrained and gagged for its first night at Whitegate, feed and drain it in the morning.”
Constance’s resistance was futile and was soon strapped into a strait jacket. Mumbling incoherently into its gag 18761156 was pulled and tugged down dark dank corridors to the cells and dumped onto a wooden bunk. Two chains screw clipped to the tight jacket, to restrict her movement, the two warders sneered mockingly.
“We hope you will be comfortable COUNTESS.”
Constance was distraught watching the heavy door close, hearing the bolts slide into place, to be left with her thoughts and to wriggle for comfort, on the hard -wooden bunk, in the cold, damp, darkness. Constance’s unheard sobbing a lullaby to a troubled sleep.
The Constable, as was his duty, visited Whitegates to check on the prisoner his junior constables had delivered the previous evening. Waiting in the foreboding entrance to Whitegate, until the Governess-matron had completed her rounds, he smiled to himself wondering how the Countess had fared on her first night at Whitegate. His covenant with Lady Hogarth and Miss Annabella was simple, once the Countess agreed to her punishment being conducted within the privacy of Buckshire manor, to become one of Miss Annabella’s maid’s, all charges would be dropped and he would arrange her transfer back to Buckshire manor. Straight forward enough he thought, he half expected the Countess to be already dressed and waiting for him after just one night at Whitegate.
The Countess was of course not waiting for him she had been sat, still restrained and gagged, for some time on a stinking wooden pail in her cell, provided for her bodily functions, awaiting permission to leave the bucket and the filth within.
The Matron invited the constable into her office and offered him a seat by her desk.
“I have come to check on the prisoner my junior constables delivered into your charge yesterday evening, Countess Montgomery of Buckshire Manor. To be held on remand presumed guilty of fraud.”
The Matron smiled.
“Yes 18761156 was processed last night she is in the cells.”
The Constable was a little concerned that the Countess had been processed, but it was a generic term, it did not mean she had actually been processed, and all that the processing entailed.
The constable chuckled.
“Indeed Matron, indeed, processed, the Countess 18761156, very good, I would like to see her.”
Miss Stanford -Brown did not share the humour of the constable’s comments.
“See 18761156? Did you not hear me, it has been processed and it is in the cells?”
The constable frowned hearing the Countess not only referred to by a prison number but it?
“She is the Countess of Buckshire manor Matron, surely you have not, you have not Processed her, I mean really processed her? Oh, my goodness, she is only on remand?”
The Matron was irked by the Constables tone.
“Conditional remand is not conducted at Whitegate, you know that, if that was the case the prisoner should have been taken to Pennington not here to Whitegate. Tell me constable, 18761156 is here for fraud, do have a confession?”
The constable knowing what processing at Whitegate was sat with a worried look on his face but replied honestly.
“Yes, yes I have a confession.”
The Matron sat back in her chair.
“Then you made no mistake constable, you were right to bring your prisoner here to Whitegate 18761156 is where it belongs.”
The constable knew the procedures at Whitegate but pleaded with the matron.
“If you please, there are, well circumstance, an agreement with the Countesses accusers an offer to atone for her actions outside the law. I must see her I will arrange a transfer to Pennington
The Matron laughed.
“Outside the law, indeed Constable, may I remind you of your duty, and that you have no jurisdiction within the walls of Whitegate, 18761156 is now my property until the courts inform me of its fate. The upper class think they can ride rough shod over the rule of law, well not in my prison constable, not in my prison.”
Told that 18761156 was already on punishment detail for a month, for its insolence and insubordination, the constable realised he would not get to speak the Countess, certainly until the end of the month.
The Matron could see the discomfort in the constable had he expected to find the Countess as she had arrived at Whitegate, having been given some preferential treatment like she would no doubt have received at Pennington?
The wicked streak, bordering on the sadistic, that she was blessed with, brought a black hearted concession from the Matron.
“You obviously cannot meet and speak with 18761156, as perhaps you intended, with it being on punishment, but stand on the watch rail overlooking the inspection yard the prisoners will be out there soon, I will come with you.”
Stood in the cold overlooking the yard the prisoners were shuffled into lines the warder’s canes at the ready.
There is 18761156, second to the end, the third row. Oops, into line 18761156 that cane will sting in this cold.
The Constable stared at the dishevelled figure, still gagged but no longer restrained in the strait jacket, that was pointed out to him. The thin grey smock fluttering in the wind her hair shorn like the others around her, and gagged, what had he done?
The constable turned away seeing the Countess like she was. he had to get the Countess transferred out of the clutches of the sadistic Matron-Governess, Miss Stanford Brown, but how?