A Tangled Web Ch. 02

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Ass

This is the second chapter of this story and, if you haven’t already read the first, I urge you to do so before continuing. In particular I urge you to read the disclaimer about historical accuracy — in brief, don’t expect any. If inaccuracies and anachronisms put you off then read elsewhere. Otherwise, on with the story….

The next morning Vera lay in her bath, letting the warm water soak away the bruises from the previous evening as she wondered just what she was going to put in her report. As ever, she was racked by indecisiveness. On the one hand she wanted to paint a picture of a job well done, of a mission successfully accomplished. On the other hand she was aware that, to tell the truth, the only thing she had achieved was to be shamed and humiliated by Madam Hong. Moreover, some of the bruising was obvious and she would have to explain that away. However, if she couldn’t persuade Colonel Fortesque that she’d done a good job she’d be back to the boredom of clerical work and that was more than she could bear; maybe she could embellish a little, not exactly lie, but put the best face on things. Mostly she was struggling with inventing a story to cover the bruising; she certainly wasn’t going to admit that she’d been beaten up by a girl who was younger and smaller than herself. She got out of the bath and towelled herself down.

*********

By mid afternoon she was standing in Colonel Fortesque’s office as he read through her report.

“So, women’s wrestling matches. I’m not sure that I approve. It doesn’t sound very ladylike, not the sort of thing a gal like you should be doing at all,” he said as he came to the relevant part.

“Well, I felt I had to join in, sir, otherwise they wouldn’t have accepted me,” Vera replied.

“Well, you certainly look like you’ve been in the wars; I do hope you acquitted yourself well.”

“Oh yes sir. I sure I did the regiment proud. I gave as good as I got and showed them that we British girls can be just as tough.” Inside Vera was blanching, remembering the humiliations she had suffered.

“And it’s all women together… What exactly do they wear during these wrestling bouts? I do hope they didn’t make you wear anything immodest; that would never do.” Colonel Fortesque seemed to be getting lost in his own thoughts and Vera just waited; she certainly wasn’t going to answer truthfully. Suddenly he pulled himself together. “Well, you didn’t do too badly. You got us a couple of names. This Madam Hong, what’s she like? Pretty ruthless I would imagine.”

“Absolutely, sir, but I didn’t let her push me around.”

“And then there’s this…” Colonel Fortesque flicked back a couple of pages. “…let’s see … Mei-Xing. Some sort of lieutenant from what you say here.”

“Very much so; she seemed very clued-in on all their plans. Quite the right hand man… err… woman.”

“But there’s not much meat,” Colonel Fortesque continued. “To be sure, you got me two names, well, we already knew about Madam Hong but it’s a feather in your cap that you’ve unearthed this Mei-Xing as well. However, for all that, we still need more. There’s nothing here I can use to make any arrests or send in the troops. I need to put them all behind bars and this won’t do it. Seeing as how you got on so well with them all I need you to go back, really get their confidence, get on the inside and then, when the time is ripe…”

“Go back, sir?” Vera struggled to hide her horror at the prospect. She hadn’t thought this through. Sure it meant she would not be returning to the typing pool but to go back and suffer the same humiliations? She wasn’t sure she could do it.

“Yes, give it a day or two, you don’t want to seem too keen but, seeing as how you got on so well I’m sure you’ll find a way to gain their confidence, to get them really talking. Let’s say I need a full report by next,” Colonel Fortesque glanced at the calendar, “Tuesday. Do you think you can handle that?”

“Yes, sir, of course, sir,” Vera said as her stomach churned inside her.

********

Back in her room Vera lay on her bed and pounded her pillow with her fists. How could she have been so stupid? She’d sold the colonel a pack of lies and now she was going to have to live with them. The only alternative was to go back and confess, confess how she’d made it all up, confess how she’d failed, confess how she’d been the stupid little girl all her detractors made her out to be. Ironically she feared Madam Hong less than she feared the colonel. Absent-mindedly she reached in her bedside drawer for the collar. She hadn’t even realised she’d been wearing it as she’d traipsed home the previous evening and it wasn’t until she’d gone to the bathroom mirror to inspect the damage that she’d seen it. And then, even as she’d thrown out the tattered remnants of the clothes that had been ruined, she’d somehow kept it, somehow ended up putting it in her bedside drawer, the drawer where she kept her most private possessions.

As she held the collar in her hands she thought back over the evening. How canlı bahis she had been shamed and humiliated. How Madam Hong had seen right through her bluster and through to the little girl underneath. She thought over the pet name Xui-Li had given her — Jun-Niu — ‘truth girl’. How ironic was that. She had lied to Madam Hong, she had lied to Colonel Fortesque and now she was paying the price. She would have to work out a way to go back to the club, work out a story that would be convincing.

*********

A few hours later, on the other side of town, Xui-Li was flicking through Vera’s report chuckling to herself.

“This is it, Huan-yue?” she queried. “This really is the report she wrote this morning.”

“Oh yes, Madam Hong. I was able to take it before the colonel locked up for the night. As long as I get it back tomorrow he’ll never know it’s been gone,” the elderly woman standing before her replied.

“Are you sure he doesn’t suspect you?” Xui-Li was full of concern.

“The colonel is a very foolish man. He doesn’t even see the cleaning lady except as someone to shout at. To him I am nothing, no danger, nothing.”

“You’re very much more than ‘nothing’,” Xui-Li said with feeling, “and I’m very grateful to you.”

“For the woman who saved my family…” Huan-yue started.

“Just be careful, that’s all, and make sure this is back before he notices.”

********

Later still Xui-Li was discussing the report with Mei-Xing.

“It looks like she was a spy after all. I was pretty sure after Chu-hua followed her back to the compound but it’s nice to have it confirmed,” Xui-Li commented.

“And she got my name. Curse the woman. Still, she won’t be back, not after what she suffered in the fight pit.”

“I’m not sure if it was the fight pit or crawling naked through the club that got to her the most,” Xui-Li laughed. “Mind you, I disagree. I think she will return.”

“And you’ll let her in?” Mei-Xing said, amazed. “But you said it yourself, she’s a spy.”

“Oh yes, what was it that Sun Tzu said? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Think of all the disinformation we can feed back to the British. That colonel Fortesque is such a fool he’ll swallow whatever lies we feed her. He’ll think he has an inside source, we’ll know exactly what he thinks we’re up to. If she comes back, and I think she will, I’ll tell the girls to go easy on her. And you, you can learn to keep your mouth shut around strangers.”

“OK, OK. Do you really think she’ll be back?” Mei-Xing was still dubious.

“The more I think on it the more I’m sure,” Xui-Li returned.

“Fancy a wager?”

“Certainly.”

********

Slowly but surely Vera was starting to rationalise away her mistreatment. It must have been some kind of test, some kind of hazing. If she went back with her head held high surely they would now respect her. She thought of the collar she had been forced to wear, that she had still been wearing when she was thrown out on the street. She would take it back, take it to show Madam Hong how she was not bowed, how she was nobody’s pet animal.

But, for all her bravado, her resolve was easily shaken and, two days later, Vera was still at her wits’ end; she really couldn’t decide whether to brave it out or come clean. In the end it was the Colonel that made the decision for her. He had called her over as she was crossing the quad.

“About that matter we were discussing,” he said, looking around to make sure no one was paying attention. “I haven’t seen any action yet. Time is passing; you didn’t get this special assignment just to sit around all day doing nothing. I do hope you’re not going to let me down on this. It’s always the same when I send a woman to do a man’s job; dithering and indecision. Can’t be helped, of course, what with you being the weaker sex and all; but see if you can manage something, there’s a good girl.” He patted her on the backside and marched off.

Vera was fuming. Every sentence, every word, every patronising syllable burned inside her, fuelling her anger, making her seethe at the recollection. Although he would never know, could never know the full details of her bravery, she would show him which was ‘the weaker sex’ and, despite her fears and the very real threat of another beating, she would march right back into the lion’s den and brave it out. She’d do it, that very night, she’d do it.

As she got herself dressed for the evening she chose her clothes with care. On the one hand she still wanted to be the modern independent woman but, remembering last time, she didn’t want to hold herself too high just to be knocked down. Add to all this the very real risk that her clothes could be destroyed as they had been last time; she didn’t want to wear her finest silks but she didn’t dare go in rags either. In the end she compromised with the lightest of girdles, a silk chemise and directoire knickers. She topped this off with a calf length dress, a light coat and flatish shoes. She was secretly quite pleased with the bahis siteleri result, a little daring but mostly demure. Using the pass that the colonel had issued her she marched out of the compound and towards the docks.

The nearer she got to the club the more her nerves started. It wasn’t just that she was scared of another beating, or of more humiliation, although, heaven knows that fear was bad enough. Far more it was a fear that Xui-Li would reject her, would turn her away. Colonel Fortesque had made it quite clear that, in his eyes, she was little more than a silly little girl. If Xui-Li were of the same opinion then it would be more than her ego could stand. Keeping her hat down and her coat wrapped around her she slunk through the shadows until she was in the alleyway opposite the club. Summoning up all her courage she went over and knocked on the door. The shutter slid back.

“What do you want?” a voice demanded.

“I’m… I’m here to see Madam Hong,” Vera replied.

“Madam Hong not here.”

“Can I wait for her?” Vera was desperate. Having worked up her courage to get to this point she just had to see it through. If she went away she might never be strong enough to return.

Vera could hear urgent conversations happening on the other side of the door. The words were too fast and too muffled to make out clearly but eventually she was told to wait and the shutter slammed shut. The minutes ticked by. A couple of times the shutter was opened but, as soon as Vera turned towards the door, it was closed again. Finally the door was opened and she was motioned inside where she was met not by Madam Hong but by Mei-Xing who looked at her with distaste.

“So, have you come for another beating?” she asked.

“I’ve come to see Madam Hong,” Vera said, as firmly as she could muster.

“She’s not here. She may arrive later but I wouldn’t count on it.”

“May I… Can I wait for her?”

“Yes, you can wait but…” Mei-Xing seemed amused. “I think we need to find something to keep you occupied, something fitting to your status. Cleaning the latrines, maybe.”

“Cleaning the latrines? Don’t you have maids for that sort of work?” Vera had been brought up with a very strong beliefs in what was, or was not, fitting work for a lady such as herself.

“Maids? Why employ maids when we can use scum such as you? May I remind you that you’re the one here begging? If you’re too proud to do as you’re told you shouldn’t have come. Do I make myself clear?” Mei-Xing waited whilst Vera nodded her acceptance. “Now, we don’t want to ruin your fine clothes so we had best get you changed into something more appropriate.”

“You want me to work naked?” asked Vera remembering how she had ended up late time.

Mei-Xing weighed it up. Her bitterness against the English was deeply entrenched and the chance to get some payback on all the humiliations she had been put through in her life was a sweet temptation. On the other hand Xui-Li had taken a proprietary interest in this girl and it didn’t do to overstep the line. Still, it was obvious that this spoiled little brat had never done a day’s work in her life and just making her scrub out the latrines would be plenty.

“It’s an appealing idea but I think not, this time. Come.” She led Vera off to one side where there was a changing area set up for staff that worked at the club.

“Undress and hang your clothes on that hook,” Mei-Xing said. “Don’t worry, they’ll be safe enough there.” And, without a further word she left.

Vera did as she was told, hanging her clothes on the hook and putting her shoes and stockings on the bench beneath. Then she stood waiting, shivering, but it wasn’t long before Mei-Xing returned accompanied by a sour looking woman who carried a bundle of cloth.

“Very pretty. Now stand up straight, hands on your head, feet further apart,” Mei-Xing ordered. She spent some time looking Vera over, coldly, dispassionately. “If you were mine…” Mei-Xing continued. “Oh, what fun we would have, well, I would anyway.” Now, put these on.”

The other woman handed Vera the bundle of cloth, which turned out to be the sort of outfit worn by the lowest cast of coolies. The outfit was loose and baggy, a sort of one- size-fits-none but at least she wasn’t naked. Once she was dressed Mei-Xing left and the woman led her away to the back of the club.

It wasn’t just the latrines which needed cleaning; the club had kitchens as well and Vera was set to all the dirty jobs and, moreover, it was quite clear that she was bottom of the pecking order, that all the staff felt they had the right to order her around and expected those orders to be obeyed instantly at the risk of a beating. Vera had never come this close to the underside of life before and nearly gagged at some of the things she was asked to do. It’s not that the club was particularly dirty, far from, but however clean the premises, swilling out last night’s pig bins is always going to be an unpleasant and dirty job, especially when you have to use your bare bahis şirketleri hands.

Two hours later Vera was weary beyond belief. She had scrubbed and scrubbed until her hands were raw. She was in a filthy state and her hair was matted with god knows what but whatever it was it stank. She had tried asking if Madam Hong had arrived but had been told in no uncertain terms that she was not allowed to ask questions and had even received a beating for her impertinence. As she dipped the brush in the pail of lukewarm suds for one more time she was close to tears but, before she could remove it she saw a pair of feet directly where she was about to start scrubbing and, looking up, saw Xui-Li standing over her.

“Well, well, well. Look at poor little Jun-Nui, having to work for her supper. How does it feel, down in the dirt where you belong?” Xui-Li sounded amused.

“Please, please, Xui-Li…” Vera saw Xui-Li’s frown and started again. “Please, Madam Hong, I just wanted to see you again.”

“Did you, indeed. And what made you think I wanted to see you? I seem to remember last time having to throw you out on the street like the trash you are.”

“Please, Madam Hong…” Vera was desperately trying to think of a reason, a reason she should be allowed to return. In the end she came up short and just dropped her head.

Xui-Li was, secretly, rather amused. Spy or not, this girl down on her knees before her was a pretty little thing and there was plenty of fun to be had. Furthermore, she had shown a certain amount of character to have come back and, although she was clearly distressed, she hadn’t baulked at the lowly tasks that had been set for her. Xui-Li reached in her pocket and fetched out the collar.

“Look what we found in your things,” she said. “Strange that you should bring such a thing with you.”

“You’ve been through my possessions!” Vera was appalled.

“You have no rights here, this is my club and I make the rules. If I want to go through your things then that is what I shall do. Anyway, nothing was touched, well, except for this. Now tell me, why did you bring it? Maybe you’re one of those who like wearing collars. Would you like it if I put you on a leash again?”

“No!” Vera said vehemently and then realised the corner she had backed herself into. “I mean….”

“Well, what you want and don’t want are immaterial. I make the rules and what I say goes. Of course, I wouldn’t hold you against your will. If you want to leave then all you have to do is say so.”

Xui-Li smiled to herself as she watched the girl squirm in front of her. Of course, this little spy would need to stay and so the cost was going to be high.

“Maybe you have heard,” Xui-Li continued, “of the Japanese geisha girls. They are trained from a young age to be pleasing, to serve, to entertain. Only the very best, when they come to the full flower of womanhood, are allowed be become geishas. Do you think that you could do that, that you would be good enough? Could you learn to please me?”

“I don’t know, Madam Hong.” In truth Vera thought that the idea of becoming some sort of simpering sycophant was beyond the pale.

“I have decided,” Xui-Li continued, “that tonight you are going to wear this collar and, furthermore, you are to be my geisha. There are plenty of other girls who would wish the same so I suggest that you are suitably grateful. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Madam Hong,” Vera replied.

Xui-Li reached down and lifted Vera’s chin. She held out the collar and Vera meekly accepted it, holding her head up so as to allow it around her throat and then bowing her head as Mei-Xing fastened it. Vera felt as if she were being swept along by a rushing torrent and, as indignity piled on indignity, she had no choice but to continue.

Xui-Li turned to a serving girl who had been patiently waiting behind her. “I want this one taken to the house and prepared. Do you know what to do?”

“Yes, Madam Hong. I’ll see to it right away,” the girl replied.

“And you,” Xui-Li turned back to Vera. “You’re to do everything you’re told, without question and without hesitation. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Madam Hong, of course, Madam Hong.”

“We’ll see, won’t we? Until then….” And, with that, Xui-Li strode off.

The serving girl motioned Vera to stand and follow her and, after a few twists and turns, Vera found herself back in the changing room. She could even see her clothes still hanging there waiting. However, she was not going to get to put them back on. The serving girl told Vera to remove her work clothes and, once she had done so, took them away. Moments later she was back with another bundle, which she put down on the bench.

Working in complete silence she took Vera’s hands and held them behind her back. She grabbed a length of cloth from the bundle she had just brought and used it to tie Vera’s wrists together, tight enough to be just on the edge of uncomfortable. Then she fetched from the pile another length of cloth, but this time it went over Vera’s eyes, completely blindfolding her. The last item seemed to be some sort of full length cloak, judging by the way it was fastened around Vera’ neck, the heavy cloth hanging down over her shoulders and nearly touching the floor.

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