Raylene’s sobs quietened while I watched her, holding the cane by my side. A sun-caught diamond tear fell from her cheek to the floor. Dorabella still held Raylene down but the look she gave me was accusing.
At this time in my career, making a girl cry was still a new and unusual experience.
I’d thought, the first time it had happened, that it meant she was having a horrible time and she hated me. So I’d put down the paddle I’d been using and – I’d thought – comforted her. Only to find her annoyed: “Wha’d you stop for?”
So this time I listened. Raylene only had to say, “Stop!” and that’d make it clear. But she wouldn’t say “go on“. If she wanted me to continue I’d have to figure it out for myself. So I listened. The sobs were quiet, introspective, to herself. And, I decided, they seemed to be more a kind of release, a catharsis, rather than misery. So I should go on.
But I had two other women watching, and they weren’t about to let me cane Raylene while she wept. If I were alone I’d take the risk of being wrong, but they wanted certainty.
I was losing my audience.
I said, as though I was cross with her, “Raylene.”
Sniffles. Eventually she said, “Yes, master?”
“Where should Dorabella’s hands be?”
“Uh.” She looked up at her sister. “Bellie, you’re supposed to be holding me down. So I don’t get out of position.”
“You sure?” Still stroking Raylene’s hair.
“Oh, yes. I really don’t want to get out of place. That really wouldn’t go well.” She looked back at me, as best she could, her upper lip shiny, then turned back to Dorabella. “Please?”
Dorabella frowned, uncertain. But I’d felt Lynette, beside me, relax. I could afford to push a little. I raised the cane. “Dorabella,” It was the command voice. Dorabella put her hands back on Raylene’s shoulders. She looked at me, half defiantly. “Press down hard, Dorabella. If I give Raylene extra strokes because you let her up, I’ll hold you responsible.”
Dorabella looked at me, uncertain. Was I still claiming a right to cane her? She frowned and then looked down at her sister’s bare back. She leaned forward, pressing her weight down.
The robe fell open again.