Sister of Mercy

From:
To:
Subject: Hansie

Jim love, youíll need to tell Tim all about this as soon as possible; Hansie's had an accident. First of all, he isnít badly hurt, at least we donít think so, but they want to keep him in the hospital tonight just in case. IT IS NOT NECESSARY FOR TIM TO RUSH HOME. I promise Iíll email again as soon as Iíve got any news, and you may need to reassure Tim that if I think he needs to come, I wonít even email, Iíll phone, at whatever hour of the day or night.

Itís taken me some time to get a grip on what actually happened, but I think it went like this: Hansie has been very good about speaking to me every time Tim gives him any news about how your trip has been going. It seems, beloved, that Tim emails every night, unlike *my* husband who has been in touch precisely twice in ten days. So I do know that your trip to America has been successful, that you think you have made some useful contacts in relation to both sales and suppliers and that you have been having a good time. Anyway, he called me on Friday night with the latest update, and we had a chat, and I got the impression that he was lonely. So I suggested that on Saturday we should go out to Brundley and go to the Fox for lunch together. I said I would pick him up at twelve-thirty, and I got there just before that.

I rang the bell, but he didnít answer it, so I went round the side of the house in case he was in the garden or something. Itís as well that I did, because he was out cold on the kitchen floor. Apparently something went wrong with the washing machine, so he pulled it out to have a look, took the top off and gave it a prod with a screwdriver, without thinking to disconnect it from either the electricity or the water. The resulting shock threw him across the kitchen and he banged his head on (we think) the freezer. He was coming round when I barged in, and I got enough of this from him to go outside and flip all the fuses until I knew what was going on, and then I rang an ambulance.

What Tim actually needs to know: theyíve X-rayed Hansie's head and found nothing (by which I think they mean, nothing unexpected, not, as I first deduced, no signs of brains at all). Heís got a headache and they suspect mild concussion. Heís got a nasty burn on his left hand, but again they donít think itís very serious Ė I mean it isnít expected to scar or anything. The thing thatís got them a little worried was his heartbeat. Apparently it was rather too fast and not quite steady, which they think was the effect of the electric shock. You neednít tell Tim this bit but I understand that if he had been fifteen years older or not quite so fit, the whole thing could have been very serious indeed. So they want to keep him in for twenty-four hours observation.

I had a great deal of difficulty getting anybody to tell me anything at all, because of course Iím not next of kin, but eventually I persuaded them that I was his common-law mother-in-law or something, and they let me in to see him. Naturally, being Hansie, his first reaction was to apologise, but that rather went by the board when Fran arrived. I had called her from the car park, because of course my car was at Hansie's and the house wasnít locked. She came on her bike, took my keys, took Hansie's keys, went back, locked up, brought my car here and arrived on the ward in a flaming temper (plainly fear! What is it about Hansie that he inspires such affection and so clearly doesnít see it?). She demanded to see him, and announced that she was his sister, and when the nurse challenged her, sent her to ask Hansie if Fran was his sister. Hansie, with the first sign of common sense and self-preservation that Iíd seen in him, said she was, and Fran came through, eyed him up and down for damage, kissed him briskly, and then gave him a comprehensive piece of her mind for stupidity. When she stopped for breath, I had a go, and when the score was about forty-all, we both stopped and received a round of applause from the ward sister, a student nurse and the registrar. Hansie had his head under the pillow by this stage. Fran calmed down a little, and proved her worth Ė she had basically burgled the house, and brought Hansie pyjamas, and his toothbrush and razor and hairbrush and so on, and a change of clothes for the morning, and his book from beside the bed.

So theyíre keeping Hansie until tomorrow, and I have explained to him that I will come and pick him up (assuming they let him go) and that if he attempts to leave the hospital without me, I will see to it that he is instantly readmitted through Accident and Emergency. Tell Tim not to worry. If Hansie isnít fit to go home, Iíll take him back to ours for a day or two. And I will send frequent updates.

Love,

Mary


From:
To:
Subject: Hansie

Tim, I got Mary to give me your email address because I wanted to talk to you about Hansie. I went to see him today, and heís not himself at all, and one way or another heís told me probably more than you would be quite comfortable about me knowing.

First of all, as far as his health goes, you presumably know by now that they let him go from the hospital on Sunday afternoon. His headache lasted about another day, he had his hand dressed again on Wednesday and itís to be done again on Monday, but itís healing nicely, and nobody seems to be worried about him any more. Heís been bollocked roundly for stupidity: Mary gave him what for in the hospital and so did I, and I know heís seen emails from both you and Jim. He is in no doubt about precisely how dim what he did was.

Anyway, Iíve been going round fairly often, and I stopped tonight for coffee, but I didnít think Hansie was in good form. He was very nervy, I thought, and jumpy, and rather subdued. In the end I pressed him to tell me what was wrong. I thought he might be having another of his damned ĎIím no use to anybodyí turns and thinking of doing a runner. Well, we know what he is. But it wasnít that, which should be a comfort to you. Oh yes, he started in his usual manner Ė he had been so stupid, Tim had the right to expect better etc., etc. Ė but he wasnít thinking of giving up. (Tim, there can be no doubt that Hansie is very much better than he was, and thatís your doing. I know Pieter thinks so too.) But he was going on and on Ė actually, I would have said he was obsessing Ė about the email you sent him. He was such a fool, he was such a bastard, he had frightened you so badly, and all the rest of it. He was consumed with guilt, not particularly over having done something stupid, but over having upset you and frightened you. I reassured him as best I could, including reminding him, only partly in fun, that once you came back from America you would no doubt explain very slowly and carefully just how frightened you had been and he would get the chance to pay for it. I hadnít realised that you wouldnít be back for another fortnight.

Anyway, Hansie told me that, and then he said, Ďand Pietís away too, or I could go to him. Heíd make me pay. Oh, God, yes, heíd make me pay. I wish he was here.í

Well, obviously, I didnít follow that, but Hansie was by this stage pacing up and down the room, and twisting at the bandage on his bad hand. So I put a stop to that and told him to sit down and calm down and make some sense. And he did calm down a bit, but not much, and eventually I pressed him to tell me exactly what was bothering him, and he did. He explained to me about his dealings with Piet.

Iím sure you think this is none of my business. I agree with you: it isnít, but it did explain a great deal. Tim, he is desperately unhappy and worried and upset. He knows that what he did was stupid. He knows what he needs, and you arenít there to give it to him. So I said: well, when is Piet back? But Piet has gone to Wales with Phil (thereís a match due) and after that heís going to Scotland. Heís reffing again occasionally, and I think he has a match too. He wonít be back until after you are. And I have to tell you, Tim, I donít think Hansie will last. I donít think heís eating properly. Iím fairly sure heís not sleeping. I think heís living on coffee. Yes, stupid, but heís not thinking very clearly.

You need to do something about this, Tim, and soon. I donít think Hansie will actually have a breakdown, but heíll lose all the ground heís gained since he started his relationship with you, and certainly all the ground heís gained since his father died. He kept saying something about having forbidden you to die and leave him, and then having done the same thing himself Ė you may make more of this than I did. He *needs* this to be dealt with, and *soon.* Is there somebody else you know Ė another Top Ė who could sort it for him? Tim, if itís a plain physical matter, I can find a Top for him. You know the pictures I take, and I have the contacts. I can find him a discreet gay or bi Top, or even a straight man, who will give him what he needs, and you can trust me to find him one who wonít even suggest anything further than that. If you donít like that, then I think you need to send him to Scotland after Piet.

I do have one other suggestion.† (This is my fifth draft of this paragraph.) Hansie knows me. He loves me and I him, as indeed I love you. If you think it would help, if you think Hansie would deal with me, if you could manage to get your own head round it, Iíll do it. Iíve been a Top since you were in short trousers and I know what Iím about. I wonít offer to Hansie. Iím offering to you. I wonít be offended if you say no; I am quite well aware that this is weird in the extreme, but you know Hansie, and you know me, and if you think it would work, Iíll do it.

Choose quickly, Tim. Hansie's doing his best, but heís suffering.

Fran


From:
To:
Subject: Hansie

Fran, have you got instant messaging? I need to talk to you and my damn mobile isnít working

Tim


From:
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Subject: You are in so much trouble now

That I donít know where to start. Sweetheart, Iím getting reports of you that I donít like at all, telling me that you arenít eating, that you arenít sleeping properly, that youíre basically getting your knickers in a twist with guilt about having frightened me. †Well, you did frighten me. I was afraid I might have lost you Ė what did you say to me about dying and leaving you lonely? You *ought* to feel guilty. We both know what youíve earned for yourself, donít we? But Iím not there, and I canít get home to you. And Pietís not there either, and he wonít be home until after I am.

So, Hansie, Iíve arranged something else, and youíre going to fall in line because this is what you deserve, but you *donít* deserve to carry the guilt untouched for another fortnight. Iíve arranged what I think will be best for you, because I love you, O.K.? And you will do as you are told for the same reason, and because youíve hurt me and itís my call to say how youíre going to pay for it.

On Saturday (I canít work out the time difference) at two-thirty, Fran is coming to see you at home. She will sort you out. Hansie, I expect you to obey her as you would me, or Piet. What you did was stupid, yes, and you must have been expecting to pay for it sooner or later. Well, we both know that in your case, sooner is better. You donít handle guilt well, Hansie. You need to be able to move on from this Ė to know that it has been paid for and the cheque cleared. So whatever Fran tells you to do, you will do, and then that will be the end of it, understand me? Nothing more from me, or Piet or Jim or anybody. Fran knows what to do Ė Iíve had a long chat with her. This will make it right and then you can let it all go.

Hansie, I love you. Never doubt it. This is what you need, and if I were home, or if Piet were home, you would get what you needed and we would all be better for it. Well, Fran is part of your new family and I trust her to make it right for you. So I want you to trust her too. She loves you; well, you know that better than me. Sheís your big sister. Sheíll make everything right for you, I promise.

Love, always

Tim


From:
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Subject: Re: You are in so much trouble now

No. Absolutely not. Under no circumstances. I canít do that. Iíll wait.

Hansie


From:
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Subject: Fran

Yes, Hansie, you can. You will not wait. Because we both know that this is what you need, and because Iím not having you destroying yourself over it, obsessing about how much youíve hurt me, about how everything that ever went wrong between us is your fault. Iíll call you tonight at seven (your time) and weíll talk about this, but this is what I want you to do. And if you wonít, then I shall have to leave Jim to wrap everything up here and come home.

Tim


From:
To:
Subject: Iíve been good, honestly

And Iíve seen Auntie Fran, and Iíve eaten a meal and as soon as Iíve sent this Iím going to bed, O.K.? So donít nag.

All right, I admit it, liefie, you were right. I do feel better. Most of me feels better. My backside feels a lot worse. And Fran said that the second part of my punishment was that I had to tell you that everything is all right now, so Iím telling you.

Love, Hansie


From:
To:
Subject: Hansie

O.K., itís done. I think heís better. Less jittery, at least. Iíll keep an eye on him for a day or two, and let you know.

Fran


From:
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Subject: Re: Iíve been good, honestly

Oh, no, Hansie, that wonít do at all. What did Auntie Fran say? *Convince* me that everything is all right now.

Tim


From:
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Subject: Re: Re: Iíve been good, honestly

Bastard. What, you want all the details?

O.K. After you phoned, I admit it, I sulked. I could not understand why you wanted me to do this, I could perfectly well have waited. But I could not handle the idea that you would come home for this, and the thought of explaining it to Jim gave me a cold sweat. So I thought I would just have to do as I was told and put up with it, and when you came home I was going to make you understand somehow how very much I disliked it.

She came on Saturday, on that motorcycle. I could hear her all the way from the bypass. Well, no, that is not quite true Ė I had been jumping at every motorcycle that passed the door since about ten past one. She had the helmet off when she got to the door, and she looked terribly serious and threatening. Bikers do, you know? Itís the leathers. (That teenager from across the road, the one with the dirt bike, saw her arrive and asked me later who she was. I think he is in love. With her bike.) She had a big case with her, one of those square hard ones that she carries her cameras in, and she brought it inside.

ĎWell, Hansie?í she said. ĎYou know why Iím here, donít you?í

I said I did.

ĎAnd you arenít going to be difficult, are you?í

There was something in the tone and the look, and I just shook my head dumbly. She pointed at the living room door, and I stepped back and followed her in. She put the case down, and glanced round, and then she looked at me and said, ĎYou did something very stupid, didnít you, Hansie?í And I nodded, foolishly, and she said, ĎAnd you frightened and upset Tim,í and I nodded again. ĎAnd since then, youíve been worrying about it.í Tim, I was all but standing on one foot and polishing the other shoe on the back of my leg. I felt a complete idiot, and about nine years old.

ĎHave you ever been punished by a woman, Hansie?í Well, I had to think about that. Never by my mother. I started to shake my head, and then thought, ĎMiss Smits used her ruler on my hands when I was at junior school.í

Her mouth twitched. ĎI think we may have to go a little further than that. Turn round, please.í Well, I didnít get that, but I did as I was told, and she put her hand in my back and pushed me towards the wall. ĎStay there, and donít turn round.í

Tim, I have not been sent to stand in the corner in I cannot think how long, and I did not like it, but you said I was to do as I was told, so I did. I think the corner behind the television is damp Ė we need to look at it . The carpet is discolouring. I heard the clasps of her case click, and I heard her moving, but I couldnít work out what she was doing. She swore a bit too. After about five minutes (I suppose Ė it felt like hours!) she said, ĎCome here, Hansie,í and I turned round. What she had been doing was changing her clothes: she had taken off her leathers and put on a dark red dress, very straight and severe, and high heeled shoes, and she was wearing lipstick. (She told me later she never wears lipstick when sheís going anywhere on the bike because it comes off on the inside of her helmet.) She looked utterly terrifying.

ĎI agreed with Tim that we would preserve the decencies. Go upstairs and take off those trousers, and put on shorts, and you neednít trouble with anything underneath. And then fetch the cane and come back down here. Go.í

Well, I went, but my knees were trembling. I admit I had been worried about that. I know, liefie, I know, Fran has seen my backside before when she took those photographs, but this was different. If she had told me to drop my trousers, I would have done it, but I was very glad to think that I would not have to. Thank you for that. I changed, and I collected the cane, and I went downstairs, and I felt sick. I had heard Fran moving about, and she came out of the kitchen.

ĎIn here, Hansie.í Her heels were very loud on the hard floor. She had moved the kitchen table and she directed me to the end of it.

ĎOver the table. Turn your head the other way. Look at that washing machine. Donít take your eyes off it. Is it intelligent to try to do maintenance on a washing machine without unplugging it?í

And, oh Timmy, I canít believe I did this! I said, automatically, ĎNo, sir.í And then I heard myself and I went red, and said, ĎMaíam. No, Miss Milton, itís not intelligent.í What on earth was I thinking of, to call her Ďsirí? I do not know even now. But if she had laughed, Tim, I would have got up off that table and not you nor she nor anyone else would have got me over it again. She said nothing, though, she just came up behind me and I felt her hands on my backside. I flinched at that, but she just smoothed out the cloth of my shorts, to make it tight across my arse, and then she stepped back and said, briskly, ĎI donít know what Timís rules are, or Pieterís, but my rule is that if you get up before I tell you, you get that one repeated, and if you get up a second time, I start again. Clear?í And I said, dismally, that it was.

I suddenly thought that she had not said how many I was to get and I opened my mouth to ask, and she landed the first before I was expecting it, and I gasped. Let me tell you, Tim, that if you had any idea of me getting off lightly because she is a woman, you would have been wrong. Here God, you would have been wrong! Fran Milton may be smaller than you or Jim or Piet, and I will admit that all of you cane harder than she does, but she is not to be sneezed at (I learned that phrase from Damian last week). She is big *enough*, and strong *enough*, and her technique is particularly good. Only good is not the right word. Effective, perhaps. She does not rush Ė she gave me quite long enough to feel the full effect of every cut, and I do not know what she does differently, but whatever she lacks in power, she makes up for in bite. She did not actually hurt me as much as you can do, but you do not match her for sheer sting. I did not try to get up, but I squirmed until I feared that she would refuse to count one. I found I was holding my breath, and it didnít help in the slightest. That *hurt*, Timmy. That hurt a lot.

And she can do Jimís trick, too: the last one right at the top of the thighs. She had given me twelve, and I think it must have taken her about twice as long as it would have taken you. ĎThere,í she said, ĎGet up. And tonight you will email Tim and tell him that I have dealt faithfully with you.í And so she had, and I turned to tell her so, but she hugged me, and held me until I could breathe easily again, and then she kissed me and handed me the cane and said, ĎGo and put this away, and put your trousers on. And if youíre quick about it, weíll be able to watch the rugby, which started about five minutes ago, and you can tell me what Iím actually seeing.í

So I went upstairs and dressed myself, and I looked in the mirror, and thought that I would have those marks for four or five days at least, and perhaps longer.

And we did watch the rugby together: I made some coffee and Fran kicked off her shoes and wiped away her lipstick, and stopped being Miss Milton, and we sat on the sofa, and presently she said, ĎOh, for heavenís sake, Hansie, stop fidgeting and lie down and be comfortable.í And she took one of the cushions on her lap, and pulled me down until I could lie on my side with my head on it, and she tucked a second cushion behind me, and then we watched the match so. Phil played well, and I think Piet will be pleased with him, and at half time they showed an interview with him, and the interviewer was a lady, and Phil flirted with her absolutely shamelessly. But Fran canít tell a flanker from a fly half, and I donít think she understood half of what I told her.

Only then I did something else that embarrasses me now. Fran was running her fingers through my hair, and you know how I find that Ė and Timmy, I just went to sleep! She woke me at six oíclock, because she said if I slept any longer I wouldnít sleep at night, and when I stood up, all my hair on one side was standing on end, and the leaf pattern from the cushion cover had imprinted itself down my cheek, and I looked a complete mess. And poor Fran had been sitting for hours (she had watched the whole of the Scotland match, which I think was scrappy play, and she might have learned more from that one had I not been asleep!) with her legs tucked under her and my head in her lap, and I had cut off her circulation, so she was in not much of a better way. When she got up, her legs would not hold her and she ended up on the floor. But it made us both laugh, which was probably good, because otherwise I think I might not have been able to look her in the eye.

Anyway, we sent out for pizza and I made a salad and we *didnít* have a bottle of wine, because Fran had to go home on the bike, and I went to bed early. And yes, Timmy, I am eating properly, and I slept well, considering that I couldnít lie on my back.

And I will say, once only then, that I am sorry that I did anything so stupid, and that I am sorry that I scared you.

So will you forgive me?

Your own

Hansie


From:
To:
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Iíve been good, honestly

Idiot. Of course. Only another nine daysÖ

Tim

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