Seventies Bound – The St Monica’s Ladies Circle
“It was very kind of Lady Dawlish to invite us to this day in her home,” Audrey Mason said as the minibus drove up the leafy driveway to Dawlish Hall. “I know the members of St Monica’s Ladies Circle will join me in thanking her for the invitation.”
It was early June in 1979, and the country was feeling as if it was entering a new era. The first female Prime Minister had recently been elected, and it was as if a dark cloud was been lifted from the country in the minds of some people. Audrey Mason was just one of those people – in her early thirties, with long dark hair, she was wearing a dark green jacket and knee length linen skirt. Under the jacket she wore a light taupe blouse, the collar turned up and a large black and white head square loosely tied round her neck and hanging down in front. A black leather belt with a brass buckle held her jacket closed, and her feet were in a pair of long burgundy red leather boots.
Sitting next to her in the vehicle was her younger sister Rebecca. She had a brown and white scarf tied over her hair, and wore an olive green padded jerkin over a white blouse, again with her collar turned up. The jerkin was held closed in front of her by two ties, while the matching skirt came slightly lower down than that of her sister, covering the tops of her own burgundy coloured boots.
“Hark to Madame Mason,” Suzanne Cole said to herself, “not everyone on this bus is a card carrying Tory.”
“You shouldn’t let her get to you,” Mabel Moore said, “once we’re at the hall, and inside, we can peel off and not see her again before the afternoon tea.”
“Won’t come a moment too soon,” Suzanne said with a grin. She had chosen to wear a long brown dress with a floral motif, buttoned up the front and with a skirt that like so many at the time covered he knees, while her legs were enclosed in a pair of tan leather boots with a short heel.
Mabel was wearing a skirt and waistcoat made from the same fabric as Suzanne’s dress, with a long sleeved white blouse made from cotton, a string bow tie tied under the Peter Pan collar. She was also wearing tan leather boots, but in her case they had a three inch stacked heel.
“And yet again we have the group split along lines of politics,” Coral James said as she shook her head. She was wearing an olive green blouse with a tie neck, and over that a thick green waistcoat with black trim. Her green skirt was pleated, and as with many of the other ladies on the trip her black patent leather boots were covered at the top by the hem of the skirt.
Nicola Adams nodded as she looked out at the front of the house. She was wearing a fawn coloured top with a striped collar and cuffs on the sleeves, which matched the belt tied round her waist. It was also the same design as her long skirt, which covered the top of her cream coloured leather boots, which had brown heels.
“Ladies,” Audrey said as the bus came to a stop, “we are very grateful to Lady Dawlish for allowing us to visit today. We shall be allowed to tour the house and then meet again for a late luncheon at 2 pm. Please, enjoy your time here.”
As they got out, the front door opened and Lady Dawlish came down, wearing a light blue blouse over a dark blue jumper, a red velvet skirt and jacket and baggy black leather boots.
“Ladies – I am so glad you could join me today. Please, come away in and we can begin your visit.”
As she said this, the group followed her in, paying no notice to the large grey van that was driving round to the rear entrance of the manor house...
“And this portrait of the first Lord Dawlish was painted in...”
Lady Dawlish was interrupted in mid-presentation by a knock on the door and the entrance of a grey haired woman in a black dress.
“My apologies for interrupting, Lady Dawlish, but there is a telephone call for you in the library.”
“Oh dear – ladies, I am afraid I must leave you to your own devices. Please, feel free to explore the rooms, and we shall meet here again for luncheon.”
As their host went out, Coral and Nicole said “we’re going to go and have a look in the rear rooms again,” before making their own way out.
“Want to have a look upstairs?”
“Wishing to satisfy your curiosity, Mrs Moore?”
“Yes,” Mabel said as she and Suzanne went out of the room, and started to walk up the large central staircase, before Rebecca looked at Audrey.
“Well, we can at least explore the rest of these rooms,” Audrey said as the two of them walked round, taking their time, looking at the portraits on the wall as the heels of their boots clicked on the floors.
From there, they made their way round to the drawing room, as Rebecca looked at the fine bone china, while Audrey looked out over the rear gardens.
“I wonder what that van is doing at the back,” Audrey said as she turned to her sister.
“Probably delivering food – which room do you wish to go to next?”
“How about the dining room – I hear she has an amazing silver collection there.”
“All right then,” Rebecca said as they left the drawing room, and walked across the entrance hallway, Audrey putting her hand on the door handle as they walked in.
As they came in, they saw two men at the cabinets, emptying the silver cutlery and plates into bags. Both were wearing black workmen’s jackets and jeans, with heavy boots, but it was only when one of them turned round and pointed the sawn-off shotgun at both Audrey and Rebecca what they realised what was going on.
“Close that door,” he barked, Rebecca closing the door behind them as the second man looked round. Both had what looked like the legs of stockings pulled down over their heads, and wore black leather gloves.
“Both of you, hands in the air, and walk slowly over here,” the armed man said, Audrey and Rebecca looking at each other as they slowly walked towards the man, their hands raised as their sleeves feel slowly down to their elbows.
As they approached, the second man pulled two of the seats away from the dining table, the armed man grinning under the nylon as he said “both of you, sit down, and keep those hands where we can see them.”
“What do you think you’re doing,” Audrey said as she slowly sat down, the hem of her skirt rising as the second man pulled her arms around the chair back. She then felt the rough fibres of the rope he was using to bind her wrists tightly together, and she realised just how stupid a question that was.
“Are there any others around the place,” the armed man said as he looked at Rebecca. Before she could reply, Audrey said “neon of your business,” then grunted as the brown rope was pulled tightly between her arms, and then the rope tied to the chair back. Rebecca simply looked at the man as her own arms were pulled behind the chair back, the ties on her jacket loosening and unravelling as her own wrists were secured.
“Make sure they can’t get off those chairs,” the armed man said, the second man nodding as he knelt down and pulled Audrey’s right ankle to the side, using some rope to secure it to the chair leg as Rebecca watched. Audrey bit down on her lower lip as the rope compressed around the rich red leather, the squeak of the rope as it was pulled tighter and tighter round her leg and the chair, until it was secured in place. He then did the same to her left ankle, before repeating the process with Rebecca.
“If this is a robbery, Lady Dawlish will raise the alarm,” Audrey said as the second man took even more rope from a bag, and started to tie her waist and upper body to the chair, weaving the rope around her body and through the slats in the chair back.
“She’s in no position to raise the alarm – and even if she was, the phone lines have been cut,” the armed man snarled before he put the gun down and started to load the rest of the silver into bags.
“What are we going to do,” Rebecca whispered to her sister as she felt her own body being forced against the chair back as the ropes were tied round her.
“Remain calm – they know they can’t get away with this,” Audrey said as the second man tied her sister’s ropes off to the chair.
“Oh for the love of – do you know how irritating your voice is,” the first man said as he swapped places with the other intruder.
“I beg your pardon? How DARE YOU!”
“OH shut up,” the man said as he reached round and removed Audrey’s scarf, rolling it into a think band as he said “open your mouth.”
“I will not!”
“I said,” the man whispered as the other masked intruder picked up the shotgun and aimed it at Rebecca’s head, “Open... Your... Mouth.”
Audrey swallowed, and then opened her mouth, allowing the intruder to pull the rolled up silk square between her lips and tie it tightly round her head. As she closed her red lips over the gag, she watched as he removed the scarf from Rebecca’s head, and used it to gag her as well.
“Now, not a word,” he said as both men returned to the emptying of the cabinets, the two women looking at each other as they wondered what to do next...
“Figures that most of the rooms upstairs would be closed off,” Mabel said as she and Suzanne walked along the upper hallway.
“True – but look at these paintings. They’re even more amazing than the ones we saw downstairs.”
“Oh I agree,” Mabel said as they passed one of the doors – only to stop as Mabel noticed the door was slightly ajar, and they could hear someone in the room.
“Do you think we dare look in?”
Suzanne smiled as she nodded, and both women walked in – only to be stopped short by the sight if Lady Dawlish lying on her bed, looking at them as she screamed “GGTUTTRNNN” through the wide strip of brown sticking plaster that covered her mouth.
“Oh no – we insist they come in,” a male voice said as they were pulled into the room, a masked man dressed in black standing in front of them as Lady Dawlish tried to move on the bed, the bands of rope creaking as they held her body in place.
“Both of you, hands behind your back,” the armed man barked out, both Mabel and Suzanne stared at him. Mabel gasped as her arms were pulled behind her by someone, and she felt rope around her wrists as they were forced together.
“Oh shit,” Suzanne said as she looked at Mabel, “this is a robbery isn’t it?”
“Give the bright girl a goldfish,” the armed man sneered as Suzanne felt the hands pulling her own behind her back, and then the cords as they bit into the flesh round her wrists.
“Lady Dawlish, are you all right?”
She looked at Mabel and nodded, lying still as she watched the second masked intruder produce coils of rope, and start to bind the arms of the two new arrivals tightly to their bodies. When she had gone to the library, she had discovered the armed gang, the housekeeper profusely apologising as she said the maids were already been held hostage downstairs.
She had been made to watch as she was tied tightly to a chair and gagged, before the gang had split up – the two in her room had frogmarched her upstairs, at gunpoint, and then trussed and gagged her before they had begun to empty her jewellery into their bags. And now, two of her visitors had been caught up in this nightmare as well, with no chance to warn the rest of them...
The two women looked at each other before they slowly lowered themselves to the floor, their skirts lowered as whoever was behind them knelt behind Mabel, and started to bind her ankles together, the sound of the rope rubbing on the tan leather as they were secured together adding to the sound of the rope around Lady Dawlish’s ankles as the rope was pulled around and between Mabel’s legs, tied off and then tied around her feet.
Suzanne was breathing heavily, trying to control her fear as the ropes above and below her chest rubbed on her body, making her feel as strange as the fear she was experiencing as her own ankles were secured.
As this was going on, the first man put the shotgun down, and picked up a wide roll of brown sticking plaster. Standing in front of Mabel, he tore a long strip off, and said “put your lips together.”
Mabel stared defiantly at him, the waistcoat moving to the sides of her body as she wriggled round, and then felt the pulling on her skin as he pressed the brown fabric firmly over her mouth, the material sealing her lips together before he did the same thing to Suzanne.
“Msssreee,” Lady Dawlish said as they were made to lie flat on the Persian rug, and then felt their legs move as their ankles were pulled back, and then secured to their chest ropes, their skirts falling as they were adjusted to preserve their modesty.
Both women turned their head to look at each other, wondering if the others were in a similar situation
“Is it just me, or is it very quiet around here,” Nicola said as she and Coral walked round the grounds.
“It is – and I for one like that,” Coral said with a smile. “It means I don’t need to worry about what other people might think when they see us together.”
“Yeah, I can understand that,” Nicola said with a smile. “Do you think any of them really suspect?”
“If Lady Audrey did, you can be sure we would have heard about it by now – and so would the rest of the village,” Coral said as she slipped her hand into Nicola’s.
“I wonder if we could get a drink if we went to the kitchen.”
“We can but ask,” Coral said as they walked past the grey van, and entered the kitchen. As they came in, they saw the room was empty, the food for the luncheon half prepared as it sat on the work surface.
“Funny – wonder where the cook has got to,” Nicola said as she looked round.
“Probably on a tea break,” Coral said quietly, as both women heard a thumping sound from behind a door. “Wonder what’s causing that?”
Nicola walked over to the door and opened it, Coral watching as her friend stepped back and said “oh my god...”
“What is it,” Coral said as she came over and saw the cook and the two maids on the floor, trussed and gagged with cloths as they tried to call for help.
“Oh hell – wait there, we’ll call the police,” Coral said as she and Nicola ran out of the kitchen, along the corridor and into the hallway. As Nicola watched, Coral picked up the phone, and then hit the set several times with her finger.
“We’re not connected,” she said to herself as she looked round, and then ran to the front door. As she looked out, she saw the driver of their bus unconscious behind the wheel.
Slowly turning round, she saw Nicola standing, the look of real fear on her face as a masked man in black stood behind her.
“Close that door and get in here,” he growled, Coral nodding as she closed the door and walked back in.
“Just... just don’t hurt her please,” she said quietly as she saw the gun the man was holding.
“Tie her up.”
Coral gasped as she realised someone was behind her, pulling her arms behind her back as her wrists were forced together with rope. “Be brave,” she whispered to Nicola, who nodded as she watched the second masked man binding Coral’s wrists, then taking the gun as her own were secured together.
“Where are Lady Dawlish and the other women,” Coral said as she tried to move her wrists, the rough cords rubbing on her skin as she did so.
“Neon of your business,” the man behind Nicola said as he yanked the cords between her arms, and tied the ends together, “sit down back to back, both of you.”
As they sat, Coral put her fingers round Nicola’s and gave them a reassuring squeeze, while rope was wrapped round both their bodies, holding them together around their waists and then their upper arms and shoulders. As they looked round, they saw more people dressed in black and wearing stocking masks, carrying bags down the stairs and across the room.
“Tow more? We left a couple in the dining room?”
“And there’s another two upstairs with Her Ladyship.”
As they heard the intruders talking, both Coral and Nicola were watching as their ankles were secured, the rope compressing the leather of their boots around their legs as it was wound around and between their limbs, before their legs were stretched out in front of themselves.
“We don’t have time to figure out if there are any others,” one of the other men said, “shut them up and let’s get out of here.”
“What do yoummnnsshtsspp,” Coral said as the sticking plaster was pushed firmly down over her mouth, Nicola allowing herself to be silenced in the same way before they watched the gang move out.
The hall fell into silence, save for the creak of both women as they tried to move, and then they heard the muffled calls from the dining room, where both Rebecca and Audrey were trying to call for help through the thick silk bands that held their tongues down and their lips apart.
In the bedroom, Mabel and Suzanne were wriggling on the floor, looking at Lady Dawlish as she kicked her legs down in muffled frustration.
And in the library, the housekeeper had managed to find a letter opener, and was slowly, patiently, working on loosening the knot that held the ropes tight round her wrists...