This story is not intended for those individuals under the age of eighteen, or for those individuals who are unusually sensitive to adult or sexually oriented materials. For the rest of you, enjoy.
PSYCHE AND METAPHYSIC
by Ken Charles
“If ‘to be’ means the same as ‘to stand in relations,’ then further inquiry arises: partly, What are the relations, to stand in which constitutes for things their ‘being’? Partly also, What are the Things, which as subjects enter into the relations?”
Herman Lotze, “Metaphysic”, 1841 (as translated by George T. Ladd, 1884)
It is true, dear Cousin. I was summoned to the Deacon’s study. Certainly I was most curious, but I assure you, I had no reason to suspect that I was in any kind of trouble. However, when I arrived, I was not alone. That awful Mrs. Tomkins and her pet Prefect Priscilla Andrews were already seated. I approached the last remaining chair and attempted to seat myself, but was ordered quite peremptorily to remain standing.
“You will take no action unless expressly directed to do so. Is that clearly understood, Ms. Ginn?”
“Y-yes, Sir. Of course, Sir.”
“I have received a most disturbing report regarding your conduct on Sunday morning.”
“My conduct, Sir?”
I was quite confused. I frantically tried to recall the events of Sunday morning. On Sunday morning, as on every Sunday since I arrived back from the holidays, I went into town with the rest of the girls to go to Church. I tried to remember everything that happened. Nothing unusual occurred during the service, or the fellowship that followed. However, as we were leaving....
“Raising your dress and petticoats well above your ankles and throwing yourself shamelessly at young gentlemen! What have you to say for yourself?”
What despicable calumniation was this? As I was attempting to step up into the carriage, I lost my balance, or so I thought at the time. I remembered, much to my surprise, Priscilla reaching out as if to catch hold of my sleeve. But now that I have had more time to reflect, I clearly recall the incredibly self-satisfied grin on her face as I floundered and lost my purchase. Her hand was not there to help me, but rather to ensure that I failed to gain ingress.
Fortunately, or so I thought at the time, I was caught by none other than the Mayor’s eldest son Robert, of whom I have written to you so fondly on several occasions. Yes, dear Cousin, that same Robert Browne, with whom I danced, laughed, (and do not tell Auntie!) kissed at the Mayor’s ball. That same Robert Browne to whom, dare I even write it, I was all but engaged! Certainly my apparel was in disarray as I fell. But there was no intended immodesty!
Robert! Of course! Priscilla obviously had designs on my dearest Robert, and had planned to humiliate me in front of my love. But instead, she literally threw me into his strong arms!
“Fine. Since you proffer no excuses for your behavior, it is clear that your actions were as you fully intended. Then the consequences should come as no surprise.”
Consequences of what behavior? I had not been paying any attention.
“That kind of behavior is intolerable! And although it pains me, since you have not been a problem heretofore, I have no choice but to give you a severe caning. Bend over the desk, and prepare yourself.”
My eyes were so wide, dear Cousin, that I felt certain that they would fall out of my head. That is, until I chanced a glance at the smarmy Miss Andrews. My eyes narrowed. By failing to timely protest my innocence, I had been condemned. But at the same time, I had been reborn, as an avatar of Priscilla’s ultimate undoing.
To be caned for this particular mishap, which was in no manner volitional, was unimaginable. To allow Priscilla Andrews to witness my disgrace was unconscionable. The need to pay her back in full measure, was undeniable. However, the nature of an appropriate recourse almost was unthinkable.
“Twenty-two. Thank you, Sir. May I have the next?”
I was sentenced to two dozen strokes with a cane. Have you ever been caned, Cousin? It was horrid. Do you remember the time when Auntie caught us helping ourselves to Mrs. Johnson’s preserves? I thought Auntie’s lesson in manners with her hairbrush would never end. But the cane is much worse!
First, I had to bend over the Deacon’s desk, and grip the far side. Mrs. Tomkins came over and turned up my dress and petticoats. I was scared and embarrassed. Someone was lecturing me about my outrageous behavior, but I really did not hear much of it. At some point, Mrs. Tomkins lowered my knickers. Matters became much clearer a moment later.
A line of fire exploded across the middle of my bare bum! I gasped. Surely that stroke was more than sufficient punishment.
“Since you failed to thank me and count the stroke, we will begin again!”
“Count the ...?”
I remembered! I was to receive twenty-four strokes, which I was required to count. Further, since this woeful procedure was for my edification, I was required to express my gratitude for each stroke.
“Two! Thank you, Sir!” May you burn forever in the hottest depths of Hades!
“That was only one, Miss Ginn. Perhaps you forgot that I had to start over.”
“No, Sir. One, Sir.”
A third line of lava erupted just below the other two. A fourth, fifth and then a sixth searing stroke soon followed. Six flaming furrows blazed across my backside. I wept softly, but kept track of each cut. A seventh stroke cut diagonally across its six parallel predecessors, “barring the gate”. I screamed and jumped up. My hands flew to my poor bottom.
“Get back into position! No one gave you permission to rise or to rub your bottom.”
“P-Please, S-Sir. Let me have a moment.”
I have never known such exquisite pain, and pray never to know it again. There was no way that I could take another seventeen cuts. I was certain that I would swoon.
“Back into position! Andrews, go around the desk and hold her hands.”
Strangely, aside from a commutation of my sentence, that was the nicest thing the Deacon (may he choke on a chicken bone) could have said. The pain was in no manner diminished, yet suddenly it was no longer foremost in my mind. Instead, all of my attention focused on the smirking visage of the one who would soon pay for these atrocities. I wiped the tears from my eyes. I wanted to watch Andrews without any distortion. As I leaned back over the desk, I knew that I would get through this ordeal, without shedding another shameful tear.
The doleful depuration continued, as the Deacon was determined to deracinate my depravities. The Deacon changed sides to deliver strokes eight through twelve from the other side. It did not really matter, a thousand bee stings is a thousand bee stings. I counted dutifully and obsequiously. At thirteen, the Deacon changed sides again.
“Thirteen, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
“Fourteen, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
It is extraordinary how time distends itself. Although I was in the Deacon’s study for no more than fifteen minutes, I had hours to plan an appropriate reward for the treacherous Miss Andrews. Most certainly there would be pain, and copious amounts of it in fair recompense for my extraordinary discomfort and discommodity. But there would have to be something more. Indeed, there would have to be something to show dear Robert that I, alone, was worthy of his affections.
“Twenty-three, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
“Twenty-four, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
I looked up at Priscilla, and caught her eye. I smiled. Priscilla shuddered, and released my hands. Curiously, she was no longer smirking.
“Metaphysic is the science of that which is actual, not of that which is merely thinkable.”
There was much to be effected as you might expect, dear Cousin. The next morning I feigned being indisposed so as to remain in bed after the others had left for classes. Dear Mrs. Morton, who provided me with the most soothing balsamaceous unguent the evening before, quite understood my seeming malaise. However, her kind heart was almost my undoing.
It took me quite some time to dress. I found that I was quite tender, and my drawers were most uncomfortable. However, there was far too much to do to worry about personal comfort.
After the girls were gone, just as I prepared to steal from my room, Mrs. Morton appeared at the door with several biscuits and tea. I perceived the slightest unguiculate like scratching in the hallway, doubtless the corner of the tray catching on the door jam, which allowed me to throw my nightshirt over my clothes, and dive back into my bed and pull up the covers just as Mrs. Morton stuck her hoary head in to see whether I was awake.
Mrs. Morton sat with me for several eons while I ate the biscuits and sipped the tea. After countless ages, I yawned several times. Mrs. Morton finally took her cue and left me to rest, promising to check on me in an hour or so. Of course, this last kindness I certainly could have done without. Nonetheless, I smiled brightly, kissed her, and closed my eyes. Once I heard the door close, I counted slowly to ten, then stole to the door to listen. When I could no longer hear Mrs. Morton, I slipped from my room, crept past her door, and flew down the hallway to Jilly Covington’s room.
I spent only a few moments in Jilly’s room, just long enough to take a small silver hat pin from her closet. After checking to make sure the hallway was clear, I skipped across the landing to Molly Cole’s room, where I liberated a small paperweight that I knew was special to her. Although I was tempted to gather additional treasures, I decided these two items would suffice.
Checking once more to ensure that Mrs. Morton was otherwise occupied, I tiptoed across the landing to Priscilla’s room. As I expected, Priscilla the Perfect Prefect’s room was immaculate. Although the temptation was strong to leave the room in total disarray, that would not have served any practical purpose. Being the only one in the house aside from Mrs. Morton, I surely would have been held accountable. Besides, I already knew exactly what I needed to do.
In the second drawer of the bureau, I found several neatly folded scarves, carefully sorted by season. I placed Jilly’s hat pin, Molly’s paperweight, and one of my own favorite rings under several scarves that were out of season that were pushed to the back of the drawer. As I was sliding the drawer closed, it made the most horrendous squeak. I was sure that Mrs. Morton would come running to investigate. But perhaps it only seemed unusually loud to me because of my excited state. I left the room without being seen.
The next task was simpler, but of paramount importance. My dear Robert had to be informed of how I had suffered (and suffered still) for our love. I could not risk sending him a note. But there was another way to apprise him of my travail, and my plans to vindicate our love. There was a certain workman on the grounds who, for a small recompense, could be called upon to procure certain goods. In my case, however, I had had the good fortune of spying on him when he himself was espying on certain fellow students under circumstances that the Deacon and the Sheriff might view with disfavor. I felt certain that he would gladly convey a message to Robert on my behalf. If I hurried, I would have time to seek him out, and still be back in my room before Mrs. Morton came to check on me.
The grounds were empty, and would be until the ten o’clock bell tolled. I had plenty of time to meet my messenger and send him on his way. I found him removing snow from the path by the topiaries next to the rose garden. Although initially he seemed less than pleased with my instructions, he proved gracious enough once I explained what I had observed of his habits. He told me that he was heading into town that afternoon, and would seek Robert out while he there. We agreed to meet again after classes ended the next day.
I returned to my room without mishap. I was halfway changed back into my nightclothes, when Mrs. Morton once again appeared at my door. I feared that I was undone, but then it occurred to me that halfway undressed appears very much like halfway dressed. So I smiled at Mrs. Morton, and told her that I felt well enough to attend lunch and my afternoon classes. Indeed, aside from a constant dull ache in my nether regions, I felt exhilarated!
It was simply impossible, dear Cousin. The man was a congenital idiot. Either he failed even to attempt to convey my message to my beloved Robert, or else he delivered my message to the wrong man! I asked him a second time to repeat each and every word.
“So’s I tells ‘im, Ma’am, just like you tells me. An’ he says he’s really sorry ‘bout ‘ow you suffered and all, but he ‘as no ideaer who you is, Ma’am.”
I considered slapping him, but I knew that I would need his services later. I had hoped to settle matters with Priscilla as early as Saturday. But if Robert did not know to contact me, then he would miss everything. I would just have to seek him out after Church on Sunday.
There has never been a longer week in all of Creation, dear Cousin. Each hour of class was agonizing, but I refused to show any sign of discomfort. Whenever possible, I tried to catch and hold Priscilla’s eye, and give her a knowing smile. By mid week, Priscilla would not even chance a glance in my direction.
On Sunday, time refused to resume its natural flow. On the way into town, I had to hold my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming at the driver to whip the horses to drive them ever faster. The journey took its normal three-quarters of an hour, but it felt like several weeks.
There must have been a sermon that day. However, try as I may, I cannot recall the least part of it. I had other matters on my mind. I spotted my beloved in his normal place in the Mayor’s pew. However, there was no opportunity to speak to him before the service.
Once the service ended, I jumped up immediately to try to reach Robert. However, I could not negotiate my way through the masses massing to congratulate the Father on another successful Mass, before Robert and his family took their leave. I hurried outside to catch him. As I raced through the doors, I was certain that I would miss him. If only I had been so lucky!
At first, as I reached the steps, I had trouble seeing. The sun was coruscating off of the new snow. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust after several hours in the dim church. However, my vision cleared just in time for me to see the most unbelievable sight. My Robert was standing with his family several feet behind the Mayor’s carriage, speaking with Mr. Hobson the banker and his wife. Mr. Hobson, as you know Cousin, is a rather large man. He was between Robert and myself. As I started down the steps to join them, Mr. Hobson stepped aside revealing someone that I previously had not noticed. Robert had a harlot draped over his arm, who, as you no doubt surmise, was none other than Priscilla Andrews! I felt as if my heart would stop, and indeed, I wished for all I was worth that it would.
Although I cannot tell you, dear Cousin, how I made it back to school, I found myself wandering the rose garden as the sun was setting. I could barely feel my finger tips or toes. But I really did not care. I suddenly understood what I had to do, and the means by which it could be accomplished. I raced back to the house to complete my acquisitions while everyone else settled in for the evening meal.
It was risky, but necessary. As I expected, everyone had left their rooms and gone down to dinner. For the second time in a week, I slipped into Priscilla’s room. This time I went straight to her desk, and took two sheets of Priscilla’s monogrammed stationery and an envelope, and her whale bone letter opener. I crossed to the bureau, took out one of the scarves from the front of the drawer, and gave it a gentle dash of Priscilla’s favorite French perfume. Finally, I took two pages from Priscilla’s notes from her fall classes. I hurried back to my room, quickly hid these items under my mattress, then raced down to dinner before I was missed.
I worked long into the night, first slowly tracing over Priscilla’s notes, then gradually working free hand until it was difficult to tell which copy was Priscilla’s and which was mine. When even I could no longer readily tell the difference, I set about drafting a note to the treacherous Robert Browne.
My Beloved Robert,
I must see you! Meet me Tuesday night after choir practice, at the rose garden.
With all my heart, Priscilla.
P.S.--Tell no one Dearest!
When I was certain that the handwriting matched Priscilla’s, I carefully transcribed the note on a sheet of her stationery. The first note was quite satisfactory. The second note was much easier to write, because it was intended to be messy. It, too, was quite satisfactory. I burned Priscilla’s notes, and my earlier copies and drafts. Then I carefully burned the corner and side of the second note, making sure that certain lines remained legible. I hid the notes back under my mattress, then surprised myself by falling right to sleep.
Monday was a busy morning. Before breakfast, I mentioned to several of the girls and to Mrs. Morton, that I had misplaced one of my favorite rings. I ate quickly, because I had to find my messenger before my first class. Not surprisingly, once again, he was less than thrilled to see me. But this time, with the added incentive of a copper, he took the note and scarf to Robert.
Of course, dear Cousin, she knew nothing of the terrible events of that Tuesday night! As chance would have it, it snowed quite heavily late that evening and well into the next day. Robert was not even found until Friday. I admit that it was sheer torture not to go out for a stroll on Wednesday or Thursday, and accidentally come across his body. Fortunately, the note and scarf were hidden in an inner pocket, and remained quite fresh. The letter opener, of course, was much easier to spot, extruding from the base of his alleged manhood.
Priscilla appeared shocked at the news of Robert’s demise. In fact, she was so shocked that, without making a close examination or contemplating the consequences, she even admitted that the handwriting on the note was hers! And when the Sheriff searched her room and found the charred remains of the second note wherein Priscilla informed Robert that she feared that she was with child, they clearly understood why the letter opener was found where it was, rather than in Robert’s neck or chest or any of the other dozen spots it visited. The Sheriff also found my ring, Molly’s paperweight, and Jilly’s hat pin. Priscilla also disclaimed any knowledge of how they were found in her bureau, but everyone had long since suspended their hopeful incredulity.
I will spare you the long, boring details of Priscilla’s trial, dear Cousin. All that matters is that the Magistrate did justice to all involved, and quite properly ordered her publicly flogged and hanged. Naturally, I attended both.
KC Copyright 2013; Moral rights to be identified as the author of the foregoing story asserted worldwide (including in Great Britain in accordance with Sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act of 1988)
"Psyche and Metaphysic" can be found in: