It amuses my lord to set me these tests.
His note arrived just as I was finishing tea, the mark of his signet embedded in a bright splotch of red wax. I trace my finger tip over the embossed seal, smooth and cool to the touch, brittle and crumbling when I break open his missive. I remember wax in its more fluid state, trickling like liquid fire onto my breasts, and his ring pressing into the congealing droplets - marking me as his. I dampened at the mere sight of his scarlet 'G' on the folded parchment; this memory leaves me soaked.
Send the maid home, he wrote. Go to your room, remove your everyday clothing, and don your blindfold. Then, without sight, I want you to dress yourself in your richest evening costume. Perhaps I will take you out to show you off tonight. Though you will be blind, take care not to make errors in your buttons and fastenings. Be ready by the stroke of six. When you are fully attired, sit on your bed and wait for me.
My breathing quickens, though he is most likely miles away, smiling his devilish smile over his own tea. My master knows me all too well. He does not need to mention the punishment he will administer if I should err in my blind, solitary efforts to dress. I read meaning into his omissions as well as his commands. Indeed, I understand his devious mind almost as well as he does mine.
As instructed, I dismiss Betty and lock the front door behind her. My master holds a key to my house as well as to my heart. I nearly tear my everyday gown in my haste to remove it. Soon I am naked and ready to begin my real trial.
Eyes closed, I trail my fingers down my neck to the hollow of my throat, imagining they are his. My skin feels warm, moist, slightly sticky, offering some resistance to movement if I apply any pressure at all. I skate over my flesh, barely touching, down between my heavy breasts and up the side, under my arm. The skin there is smoother and softer, like the cheeks of my infant niece. I shiver as pleasure arcs down my spine.
My cunt and my nipples both knot. The ache in my clit spreads through my pelvis. I want to slip into the juicy cleft between my thighs, to give myself a moment's relief, but I refrain. I know he would not approve, as well as I know that the final release will be all the sweeter if he controls it.
The clock in the hall chimes half past five, reminding me that I must hasten. Who knows what will happen if he arrives before I've completed my task? From the drawer beside my bed, I retrieve my blindfold, two layers of thick black felt that completely block any light. My master commissioned it from a milliner famous in society and made me attend personally for the measuring. I settle the dense, nappy mask over my eyes, remembering how I squirmed with embarrassment and desire during the fitting. Surely the prim, fussy merchant guessed how it would be used! My lord teased me afterward, saying that my musk drowned out the man's pomade.
As I am enveloped in blackness, my other senses grow more acute. I can definitely smell myself, a hint of ocean mingling with the lavender Betty strews on the sheets. I hear the tick of the clock and my own rapid heartbeat. There is no time to lose.
My clothes are stored in the oak wardrobe across the room. I rise and make my careful way across the floor. The Chinese carpet caresses my bare feet, but I know from experience it can rasp the skin off knees and elbows, when my master is impatient.
It is difficult to judge the distance without sight. I keep my hands outstretched, thinking that I'll run into the wardrobe at any moment. When my fingers finally graze the hard shell of varnish, I grope for the door handles. The hinges let out a loud squeak. With my eyes open, I'd never noticed they made any sound at all.
Undergarments first. Often my lord will want me bare under my skirts, but he has not given me any such instructions this evening, and I sense he wants my task to be as difficult as possible. I reject the notion of a corset. I rarely wear one, despite the impropriety. My master prefers me to be accessible and in any case, lacing it by myself, even if I could see, would be impossible. Let him punish me if I've failed to discern his intentions. I gush at the thought.
Crouching, I rummage in the cabinet near the bottom for a pair of drawers and a chemise. My fingers tell me the difference between the starched linen, the smooth, finely-woven muslin, the delicate silk. Considering the lubricious flow between my thighs, I settle on the more absorbent muslin. I hunt for the drawstrings at the waist, only to discover that I've put the drawers on backwards. I blush under my blindfold, imagining how my master would mock me. The garment is already wet when I remove it to right my error.
The chemise is easier, though I swear I almost spend when the crisp fabric grazes my taut nipples. Petticoats next, flounced layers of stiff cotton reinforced with horsehair sewn into the seams. Managing their unwieldy volume without sight almost defeats me. At one point the under-petticoat springs out of my grasp as though trying to escape. I must crawl across the carpet, waving one arm in front of me, to find it. I know my master particularly enjoys seeing me on my hands and knees. I wonder briefly if he might somehow be watching me. The notion heats both my cheeks and my sex.
My fingers are my eyes as I search the closet for my washed silk bodice and velvet over-vest. I tick off the outfits in my mind as my hands encounter them: the navy-blue wool walking suit, the fabric warm and flat; the red and white canvas tennis ensemble, with a rougher, more open weave; the peach satin ball gown I was wearing the night my master claimed me. The frock rustles as I stroke the shiny surface and the nubbins of pearl-studded embroidery. How that sound filled my ears as he swept my skirts over my head and took me from behind! I fancy a hint of his leather-and-sweat fragrance still clings to the garment.
But I must stop this day dreaming. At last I find the bodice. It drifts down over my breasts like a cloud, draping my generous curves in a way I know he'll appreciate. I mold my the silk over my body, savoring the gossamer fabric and the firm flesh beneath. The fitted vest comes next, the soft nap like a kitten's fur against my palms. I struggle to fasten the line of tiny abalone shell buttons that run from my bosom down to my waist. There must be at least thirty of them. Twice I get down to the last button to discover that I have them mismatched.
Finally, the overskirt, Chinese silk brocade drawn up into loose ruffles at both hips. My fingers recognize the rich bulk of the heavy fabric, so different from the diaphanous bodice. Blindness has made me more sensitive; I can trace the design of peonies and foliage woven into the cloth.
Only when I've completed the process of buttoning the skirt and tucking it under the vest do I remember that I need stockings and shoes. The clock chimes six times. Despair, terror and arousal battle in my breast. There's no help for it now. I would have to remove the petticoats and skirt, at very least, and my time is up.
I feel my barefoot way across the room, back to the bed. My heart slams against my ribs. I arrange myself on the bed as best I can, my voluminous garments spread around me. Even through the many layers, I can smell my excitement, and I know my lord will, too. I fold my hands in my lap, try to calm my breathing, and wait, as he has taught me.
The clock rings the quarter hour with no sign of my master. I struggle to contain my impatience. I can't help straining to catch the first sounds of his entry. I hear nothing.
Smell is the first sense that advises me of my master's presence. Though he is silent as a cat, he cannot disguise his earthy male scent, which makes me flow afresh. He does not speak, not yet, but small currents in the air tell me he is moving about the room. He sets something on the bed beside me, heavy enough to change my balance a bit. I feel his eyes upon me, feel the blood rise to my face and swell my clit in response.
Finally he speaks. "Beatrice, my pet. I see you have obeyed me - but only up to a point. Where are the satin slippers that match your lovely frock? "
I swallow the lump in my throat. "My lord, I am truly sorry to disappoint you. I did not remember until the last moment..."
"No matter," he interrupts me. "Or at least, no matter that cannot be remedied with some discipline."
The way he utters that word! His voice is quiet, pleasant, but I'm struck by lightning, an incandescent stroke of mingled fear and desire.
"Reach out your right hand," he orders. I extend my arm to explore the item he has placed next to me. It takes only an instant for me to recognize the coarse, twisted, hairy coils of his rope. I practically swoon, feeling already how the ropes will bite into my tender flesh.
My master catches me in his arms, touching me at last, and plants a moist kiss on forehead. "Fear not, sweet. I am pleased. You look quite lovely." When he lets me go, I must bite my lip to avoid crying out at the loss.
"Now," he says, laughter edging his voice. "Take it all off."