Frederick watched her walking away, enjoying the way her body moved. There was a natural flow to the dress, it clung at her hips and accented the shape of her buttocks. The hem of the skirt flipped up to the back of each thigh alternately as she took each step and her hair swung in cadence with her arms. He watched her as she climbed her way back up the spiral stairway until she disappeared into the building.
He turned and walked back toward the far corner of the courtyard. He wanted to inspect the bushes where Agnes had been foraging earlier. He wanted to see where she had gone and what she might have seen. As he approached the shrubs he saw her footprints in the soft soil and could see where she seemed to have carefully stepped over the ground cover and flowers and moved back into the bushes. There was a trail where she had passed most of the way through the bushes and had almost reached the walkway that was hidden behind the hedgerow. Frederick walked on through the hedge and onto the walkway along the edge of the building.
Moving along the edge of the building he heard a movement and rustling inside the shed. The sound made him smile. He spoke in a calm and soft voice, “Hello sweet girl.” Then he moved on along the walkway, past the screening and onto the garden tool shed. In the garden shed he picked up a rake and went about cultivating the ground both he and Agnes had walked across. He took the knife out of it’s sheath and pruned a few errant branches away. Satisfied, he returned the trimmings and the rake to the garden shed. As he walked back he heard the rustling again and he paused to lean in and look through the screening. There she was; such a beauty. He said, “Such a sweet girl,” then moved on and followed the walkway back around the far end of the hedgerow and followed the path back into the opening.
Frederick stood still, enjoying the afternoon sun shining on his back, warming him, soothing his sore muscles. He felt good. Finally he focused his attention on the courtyard. He looked around, surveying the areas where he would need to direct Franco to focus his attention. His mind engaged, trying to calculate the size of crew that would be best for the work to be done.
Off in to the distance he spotted Agnes coming down the stairway with the picnic basket on her arm, once again struggling with the tree branches. When she reached the bottom of the stairs and got out onto the pathway she moved the load to her hand. As she walked up to Frederick he reached out and gave her a broad smile and a small greeting hug.
“Thank you very much, Agnes. I was beginning to wonder if you had gotten lost, but I see you have been very busy.”
He took the basket from her, put his arm around her shoulder and lead her over toward the grassy knoll where they could spread out a picnic spot to sit and have a bite to eat. As they walked, she put her arm around his back. Her hand went around to his opposite side and fell onto the sheath of his knife.
“What is this Frederick?” she asked, grabbing and pulling at the sheath through his shirt.
“It’s a knife.”
Just then he stopped, set the basket on a wooden bench, took out the table cloth and spread it on the ground.
“This will be a nice spot for our little picnic. There is a nice view of the big trees from here and the sun will help keep us warm.”
He took Agnes’s hand and guided her down to a sitting position on the ground, turned and picked up the basket, sat down himself and placed the basket between them. Agnes immediately started pulling out plates and glasses and wrapped bundles of food. She pulled out a bottle of mineral water and handed it to Frederick to open. He was pleased that she had chosen mineral water rather than wine as he had suggested. While Agnes busied herself arranging sandwiches and coleslaw onto plates she smiled and handed the fruit to Frederick.
“Perhaps you can use your knife to cut these for us.”
Frederick peeled and sectioned the fruit, arranging pieces on each plate, along with the sandwiches and slaw.
He poured drinks for the two of them, setting the glasses on the bench behind them and then handed a plate to Agnes and took one for himself.
“This is a lovely meal you have prepared for us Agnes. This is much nicer than I imagined I had the making for in the house. Thank you very much.”
He handed her a glass, picked up his, smiled and offered a toast, “Bon appetit.” They tapped their glasses and took a good healthy drink. They both laughed, and settled quietly to eating. As they ate, Frederick talked more about the courtyard, specifically the need to have some maintenance work done. He pointed here and there as he talked, and Agnes followed his conversation and gestures, quietly taking in all of his explanation but not saying anything in response other than the occasional exclamation, indicating her attention and understanding.
After they finished eating, Agnes gathered the plates and linen and glasses and stowed them away back into the basket. Once everything was collected and put away Agnes reached down into the bottom of the basket and pulled out a little bag of wrapped chocolates she had found in the refrigerator. She offered the bag to Frederick who took it, smiling. He reached into the bag, took out a few pieces and offered some back to Agnes. She smiled in return and they ate the little chocolate dessert. When the chocolates were gone, Frederick folded the bag and put it back into the basket, pushed the basket up under the bench and laid back on the ground with his arms crossed under the back of his head. Agnes followed his lead, and laid out on her side facing Frederick and rested her head on her curled arms.
Frederick jerked his head up, not realizing he had even fallen asleep. He was groggy and dazed and disoriented. It seemed almost dark; the sun had gone down behind the buildings and the afternoon shade was heavy. He turned to speak to Agnes but she was not there.
“God damn it,” he thought to himself, “she has wandered off again.”
Frederick sprung up and looked around, confused. He turning left, then right, still he could not see her. He walked down to the center of the courtyard where he could see in all directions. Still he could not see her. He walked back to the bench where they had eaten and wondered if her curiosity had drawn her to the corner again. He walked off in that direction looking here and there for her, but she was no where to be found. He reached the corner and there was no sign of her. He cursed again, and turned and headed back. When he rounded the hedges there she was, sitting on the bench, pulling the water bottle and a glass out of the picnic basket.
She stood up and said, “Oh, Frederick, there you are. This is such a beautiful place. I absolutely . . . ”
“Where have you been?” he interrupted.
She half turned and pointed off behind herself and said, “I was just looking at the little pond of koi over there.”
“This is the second time you have wandered off from me, even after I instructed you not to stray.”
“But you were napping and I wanted to let you rest. I heard the little waterfall there and went to have a look at it.”
“I am very disappointed in your behavior and am not sure what it is going to take to impress upon you the importance of following my instructions.”
“But Frederick, I just walked over there by the little pond.”
“Agnes, I told you I understand your curiosity but I cannot have you wandering off.”
“Frederick, I am sorry, I . . .” but she trailed off, lowering her head.
“I have already told you that ‘I am sorry’ is not good enough. When you are with me, you will follow my instructions or there is no point.”
“Frederick, I don’t understand why you are being so mean. Do you not want me to be here? Would you rather I leave?”
Frederick stepped forward and grabbed hold of her shoulder. She had to look up to see his face as he spoke.
“Stand here and be still. I very much want you here, but you can not just roam free. This is the second time you have wandered off, even after I told you not to. I have good reason to insist that you stay put and not go off by yourself.”
He reached down and untied the rope that was around Agnes’s waist, and stretched it out. He folded it in half, took out his knife and cut the rope into two equal pieces. He tossed the pieces over his shoulder.
“Sit down on the bench.”
Agnes just stood there, looking back at Frederick. Frederick looked directly into her eyes, with his own steady gaze. She had a defiant look, although he thought he saw her lip quivering.
“Did you hear me?”
“I heard you.”
“Sit down Agnes.”
“Agnes,” and then he paused with his gaze locked onto her eyes, returning his own resolute determination, "You need to do as you are told, or you can go home right now."
Still she continued to look up at him, unmoving but her eyes were softening. Frederick stood his ground, looking directly into her eyes, his expression placid, but determined.
“Agnes, please sit down on the bench.”
Very slowly, reluctantly, she stepped back, glanced behind herself and sat down on the bench. She sat huddled, looking up at Frederick.
"Are you going to do as you are told?"
She sat and stared, silent, as if still weighing the choices. Then, she slumped in resignation and nodded her head.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
Again, she was silent, just nodding her head, settling into the seat even more.
Frederick said, “Trust me Agnes, you will understand soon enough.” She just sat quietly, seemingly resigned to her choice.
Frederick removed the bandannas from around his neck and folded them neatly into a wide blindfold. He went around behind Agnes and placed the blindfold across her eyes then pulled it taut to the back of her head and tied three sound knots. He came back around and asked, “How does that feel? Is it comfortable?”
Her response was a soft and simple, “It is okay.”
“Now I am going to bind your legs and wrists.”
Agnes nodded her head.
Frederick pushed her skirt half way up her thighs then took hold of her knees and positioned them directly together. He wrapped the rope under the back of her knees, then up across the top of her thighs, and back around underneath, three wraps around. Then he wrapped the rope around the coils, down between her thighs and knees, cinching the other wrappings tighter, and tied off the ends.
“Put your hands behind your back.” She balked at this, but Frederick stood in still silence, waiting for her to respond, “Well?” Finally she did as he asked. He went around behind the bench and wrapped the rope around her wrists, and then around itself, just as he had done with her knees. He wrapped the ends of rope through one of the rails of the bench seat and tied it tight.
She did not answer.
After a moment he said, “Sit here and be still. Do not attempt to move or change position. Sit absolutely still. Even if you hear me talking, or I talk to you, do not respond. I need you to be quiet. I will let you know very directly if and when it is okay for you to move or to speak, and until I do, be quiet. Is that clear?”
He put his hands on her shoulders, “I am going away for a few minutes but won’t be far off. If you hear me returning, do not speak to me, be still and be quiet.“
“Please don’t leave me here by myself, not like this.”
“It will be alright Agnes, trust me, you will never be out of my sight, but I need you to be silent and still.”
Frederick walked the path to the hedgerow and turned down the walkway along the edge of the building. When he reached the screening he looked in again and muttered a soft “Hello.” He took out his keys and unlocked the door to the inner room of the shed. He closed and latched the outer door and then took down a leash from the tack wall opposite the inner door. It was a short sturdy leash, perhaps 2 feet long, heavy rolled leather, with brass hardware at one end, and a wrist loop at the other. He draped the leash around the back of his neck and opened the inner door and walked in, closing it behind him.
He stepped forward slowly and bent down on one knee. He spoke in a calm and soft voice, “Hello sweet girl, how are you?” He reached out and took gentle handfuls of jowls and affectionately rubbed with his thumbs. She offered no resistance and clearly enjoyed the affection. He pulled the leash off his shoulders and clipped the brass snap to the ring on the collar. He stood, pulled up on the leash and she got to her feet and followed him to the door.
He led her through the inner door, then unlatched and opened the outer door. They walked on through and out into the courtyard, down the walkway and back toward the clearing. When they turned into the clearing, she started off to the right, almost walking in front of Frederick and nearly tripping him. He jerked on the lead and returned her to his left side and she fell back into a proper pace, at his side and slightly back and half step or so, just as she had been trained.
They followed the winding path and arrived at the clearing and Frederick could see Agnes sitting on the bench, exactly as he had left her although she had crossed her ankles and tucked her feet back under the bench. She did not look relaxed, which did not surprise him. He knew this was a challenging situation for her, for anyone really, to be contained so tightly, bound and blindfolded. He could imagine how her mind was racing, trying to make sense of it all while struggling to accept his control and instruction and accept this predicament.
Rather than sitting relaxed, she seemed hyper-alert. She turned her head in his direction as he approached. It was as if she was watching him coming toward her. When he passed in front of Agnes, Frederick turned and circled around behind the bench and stopped immediately behind her. He saw Agnes make very slight movements of her head as if trying to focus her ears to the sounds around her, but other than that she was remaining completely still and silent, exactly as he had instructed her.
“Agnes, I am going to untie your hands but I want you to keep them behind you. Do not move in anyway. Nod your head slightly if you understand.”
Agnes nodded her head.
Frederick reached down, pulled the knot loose, and unwrapped the rope from around her wrists. Agnes moved her hands to shrug the rope off, but then clasped her hands together again. Frederick pulled the rope loose and let it drop to the ground.
He circled back around in front of the bench, and stopped directly in front of Agnes. He tightened his hold on the lead, pulled it forward and they closed the distance to Agnes.
“Agnes, you are going to feel some movement. I want you to continue to remain calm and still. Understood?”
Agnes slowly moved her head up and down.
“Good girl. You will feel some movement of the bench and maybe some touch. In a minute I am going to reach out and remove your blindfold so you can see. Do not be alarmed. Everything is under control. I have the situation completely in hand.”
Agnes slowly nodded her head again.
She turned her head to Frederick again, and he said, “Good girl, just be calm, everything is fine.”
He realized suddenly that Agnes probably thought he was talking to her, and said, “Okay Agnes, now I am going to remove your blindfold and introduce you to my friend. Close your eyes and only open them on my command. Again, everything is fine, just relax and do not speak yet.”
Frederick sat down on the edge of the bench, reached over and pulled the blindfold up and off Agnes’s head, noticing that her eyes were indeed closed, tightly. He held off saying anything for a minute, to give everything a moment to settle down, and then, “Okay, Agnes, you can open your eyes now.”
Agnes opened her eyes and pulled her head back, startled. Her eyes opened even wider with the realization. There was shock and alarm in her eyes but she did not appear to be panicked. She sat stark still, staring up into the cats face. She was frozen and Frederick noticed that she was holding her breath. Frederick put his hand on her shoulder, massaging, and felt the tension in her muscles.
“Agnes, just relax and let your breath out. Everything is under control and there is no danger here.”
Frederick looked at the cat to affirm his control and saw that she was completely calm, but was definitely curious about this new person.
“This is Sheaden. She belongs to the man who owns the corner building. He is affiliated with the circus company here in town.”
At the mention of her name, the cat reared her head and leaned it to the side, looking at Frederick like she was expecting something. He looked at Agnes and saw she still had not moved, although she was breathing. He rubbed her shoulder and the back of her neck.
“Agnes, she is retired from the circus and was brought here to live a quiet and peaceful life. She is completely tame. She has always been very good with people, but she can be very protective of this space, her home.”
Frederick felt the muscles in her shoulder and back relaxing. He continued to rub her neck and she had turned her gaze to him, watching him speak. She seemed to be drawing calm from his words and relaxed, matter of fact manner.
“You can bring your hands up slowly now and reach out and pet her.”
But Agnes did not make a move, she just sat still, looking back and forth between Frederick and the cat in front of her.
“Go ahead Agnes,” and he slid his hand down her arm and encouraged her to move it forward. “She is familiar with you now and will not react to your attention or touch, other than perhaps to purr.” Frederick hoped this light hearted remark and a smile would help her relax even further.
Agnes slowly brought her hand up and placed it on the side of the cat’s neck, working her fingers into the cat’s fur and scratching slowly, tentatively. Sheaden tilted her head slightly in response to the scratching behind her ear and a deep rumble came from within her chest. Frederick knew the cat liked to be scratched behind the ear and was smiling in her own way.
“She is very much enjoying your attention, you are scratching her in exactly the right place, just behind her ear. She is smiling at you and voicing her pleasure.”
Agnes gave a slight smile to Frederick and continued petting her. Agnes was noticeably more relaxed now, she seemed to feel safe again.
“She is a beautiful animal Frederick, and she does seem friendly and calm. This is why you did not want me exploring on my own?”
“I assure you, if you had come up upon her in her den she would not have been calm and friendly. There is no telling how she would have reacted to you, but I can assure you she would have become very territorial. For now I have her relaxed and under control. Since you are with me, and she was allowed to get a sense of you, this is going to be okay. As long as you are in my company, you do not present a threat to her or her territory.”
Agnes smiled, and nodded. She was now stroking and scratching and caressing the cats head, neck and ears with both hands. Frederick settled on the bench next to Agnes while she played with the cat. He reached down and undid the bindings around her knees. After he was done, he sat back and watched his two girls interacting and enjoying each other. He leaned on the bench back and put his arm around Agnes’s shoulders, massaging them slightly, enjoying the feel of her skin under his hands.
Agnes seemed to take to the cat naturally now. She had lost the palpable sense of fear and was showing a great appreciation for the animal. That pleased him, it was still another interesting twist to this young country girl who seemed to be such a mix of contradictory experiences and perspectives; fascinating.
Finally, Frederick broke into the silence and said that it was getting dark and it would be best for him to return Sheaden to her shed. He told Agnes to gather everything together while he was gone so that when he returned they could go back to the apartment.
“We will get dressed and I will take you out to dinner. It has been a long day, we have been through an ordeal and the weekend is coming. I think we deserve a little celebration.”
Agnes smiled at his suggestion and seemed pleased that the day would continue onto the evening. Frederick was quietly thrilled at the way Agnes responded. As he returned Sheaden to her shed, his thoughts wondered onto just how far he could probably take Agnes. Under the right circumstances, there was probably nothing that she couldn’t do.
From Agnes's perspective