To the extent that formerly I had been playful, high-spirited and always ready to engage in pleasures and employments suited to my age and sex, so now I became reserved, secretive, and timorous. In other days, I was fond of dangerous games, cricket, bird's-nesting and suchlike. Now by chance if I saw a bird's nest at the top of a tree, and absentmindedly would imagine how easy it would be to reach it by climbing along yonder thick branch, lying the while upon my chest, extending a hand as far as this other branch or that, I would suddenly become conscious anew of my clothing. What a fine state my glazed kid gloves would be in, and my muslin petticoat, thread stockings and kid boots! The rough bark of the tree would quickly spoil the beauty of all this finery.
I do not mind owning that formerly I had been a boy fond of a good stand-up fight, though ready to forgive my foe afterwards. Now l had no pluck left. The flogging I had received the day of my arrival had taken from me any desire, at any rate for a long time afterwards, to ever avenge myself upon my schoolfellow as a healthy boy would. Instead of taking quick action, or defending myself from others with my fists, I would, like the other children, descend to cunning and slyness.
I will say no more upon this head. These recollections are very painful to me and I do not care to tell to what actions I sometimes resorted. I am now a man and ashamed of the mean actions of these childish days. As I continue this story of my youth, it is with difficulty that I can contain my anger as I think of those who were the cause of demoralisation which happily, thought no thanks to them, I have outlived.
I thought I had endured every suffering that the cruelty of Lady Flayskin had been able to devise. Thousands of times had I cursed the corset which compressed my ribs, impeding my breathing sorely; the high heels which obliged me to take little painful, careful steps and to swing my body in a ridiculous manner; the feminine drawers, stockings and garters. I espacially detested the straps which cut into my shoulders if I leant forward, and the stiff leather collar which so grievously strained my neck and prevented the least forward inclination of the head. In short, all these cruel tortures, to which no force of habit could accustom me, seemed the limit of malignant inventiveness.
I was mistaken.
In an earlier chapter I have alluded to the black kid drawers worn by Clara.
One day the directress sent for me. I went
to her room whith a beating heart. This summons never boded any good. It was invariably a severe reprimanding followed by a flogging sentence, or some other outrage to our childish feelings.
She began by making me a little speech in which she congratulated me upon the improvement in my conduct. She dwelt lengthily on the advantages of her system of education and asked me if I was of opinion that my bad disposition would ever have been reformed without the discipline of the corset; the high heels; and those gloves so tight that they prevented the fist being clenched when worn. As I remained mute, she frowned and repeated:
"Do you thinks so, Alice?" "Yes, my lady."
"So you are happy here?"
"Very happy!" and I haved a vast sigh which would have choked me had I tried to restrain it.
"You must now put this on!" she said, spreading before my eyes, which found no pleasure in the vision, a pair of those glazed kid drawers such as some of the girls and boys wore in this horrible academy.
For a minute I stood dumb and motionless, wondering if just once more I should attempt resistance. Reflecting that I should pay dearly for my folly and having before my mental vision Stella's white arm wielding a big birch-rod, I stepped forward, with an air of humble submission, took the garment, and replied:
"Certainly, my lady."
She loosened my grasp of the garment.
"No. If I had wished you to put it on later, I should have given it to Mrs. Stuart. You, must put it on immediately, and I shall help you, for you would never succeed unaided. Come! Undress yourself."
Already she had loosened all my buttons with nimble fingers, and, in less time than it takes to relate, I stood before her in my chemise. The first thing I did on being freed from the corset, was to rub my back, whence the skin was slightly rasped, and which was red and sore from continual and excessive compression. This feminine gesture was a successful one! My lady condescended to one of her rare smiles. Then, unwilling to allow so excellent an opportunity for proclaming the excellence of her establishment to escape, she said:
"Look at the proof of your change! Your movement is instinctive. You experience a sensation of irritation so soon as you remove your corset which shows that it should be taken off as seldom as possible. Let me see if you are perfectly clean."
She examined my white clean body, raising my chemise in order to be able to look at me properly. Her fingers travelled lightly over my skin and she appeared contented.
"Very good! For a boy, your skin is extraordinary. It is white and delicate. That is not merely the result of the cosmetics employed in this house, and which come, it is true from the best perfumers of London, that your skin is so velvety. It is a natural gift and a precious one which I urge you to value. It is not usual to see so soft and feminine a skin in a member of your sex."
She bade me be seated and going upon her knees before me, began to remove my boots. Such an attention and attitude were of evil omen and I began to feel very frightened.
When Lady Flayskin had an air of sweetness and a desire to render aid it was the sign of a fit of cold implacable wrath which was about to burst forth. She resembled the cat whose claws are sharpest and cruellest when the paw seems most soft and velvety. I endeavoured to aid her, astonished and confused at this removal of my boots by the directress, but she pushed my hands away, saying:
"No! No! Keep quiet, will you? I tell you once for all that I do not wish for interference from my pupils. It is my desire to remove your boots; that is my whim, is it not? Do you understand?"
The look she gave me showed me plainly that it was not from humility that she performed this servile action.
When my boots had been removed, I was about to take off my long cotton stocking, but she authoritatively intervened:
"No! No! Keep them on! They will not be at all in the way."
She again took up the kid garment that she had laid upon the back of a chair, when about to undress me. It was a garment of a soft yielding appearance which appeared to me to be much too tight for my body. It was at the same time a sort of vest buttoning up at the side with mother-o'-pearl buttons, and a pair of drawers of most slender proportions.
The stockings certainly did not prove to be in the way. But after the legs of the drawers had been pulled up over my slender calves -- as thin and wiry as a stag's -- they refused to mount my thighs.
Lady Flayskin pulled. I stretched out my legs making them as stiff as possible. In spite of myself, I could not help bending my knees, so violent was the strain put upon them by the pulling. Then the wrathful voice of my lady made me tremble.
"Will you be so good as to sit quiet, Alice? You are behaving badly on purpose, you bad boy! If you begin again you shall taste the whip before leaving this room."
Her threat did not strenghten my powers of resistance. My legs bent again, weak with fear. With compressed lips and furious eyes, Lady Flayskin regarded me in silence. She had abandoned her efforts. Happily for me a diversion took place at this critical moment.
A knock was heard at the door.
It was Mrs. Eagle, the stout under-mistress, leading into the room, in response to my lady's "Come in!" the three sisters, the pride of the establishment. I have already spoken of these three young ladies and of their waists, whose slenderness was due to the discipline of the corset as prescribed by Lady Flayskin.
My lady looked as them with pride and contentment. Her ill-humour immediately vanished. She forgot it at the sight of her favourite pupils and told Mrs. Eagle to see to the completion of my dressing.
The three girls, perfect mannequins as regarded their proportions, stood modestly together. The eldest was now sixteen years old, with a transparent complexion and feverish eyes. At the sight of her waist, people wondered how she could move without breaking into two pieces. Her waist was quite round and the appearance of slimness was thus accentuated. It was certainly not more than fifteen inches round. Her shoulders were lamentably narrow, but nevertheless appeared broad and finely proportioned by contrast with her slender waist.
The younger sister was my lady's triumph, the stout child who was now fifteen years of age. When first brought to the school, she seemed about to become elephantine. Her appetite however, was not unusually large. It seemed that everything she ate nourished her, turning to fat and muscle, yet Lady Flasykin showed no disposition to oppose this corpulency. She proscribed neither potatoes nor pastry, and the lass might take as much farinaceous food as she wished. I may say that as regards food, we were as well treated as the most exacting parents could have required. This was fitting in an establishment which in its way was extremely luxurious and certainly very expensive. I do not think that in the whole of England could have been found an educational establishment whose terms were higher. We certainly had excellent and abundant food, good cooking, together with encouragement to satisfy our appetites on the part of the teacher. The young lady of whom I am telling you had profited thereby. She ate everything and asked for more, being no different in this respect from some of the other pupils. Big appetites in this establishment were not exceptional, the girls being some of them as hearty eaters as the boys.
While placing no obstacle to the girl's increasing corpulency, for the neck, shoulders, arms and legs were becoming of monstrous proportions, Lady Flayskin was careful to see to the diminishing of the waist measure by the continual and judicious employment of suitable corsets.
The result was extraordinary.
It seemed impossible that this child, whose chest was compressed and whose stomach was tightly girded night and day, could digest food and continue to grow fat. Yet such was the case. Her disposition was cheerful; ever ready for a joke and a laugh, she was always a source of jesting among her companions who loved her for her gaiety. Sometimes her laughter would terminate in a painful grimace. The inexorable corset was unfavourably disposed to an excess of laughter and made its wearer pay for liberties. It refused to yield so much as half an inch. But the moment of pain would pass and the young girl would become again as lighthearted as ever.
She was of the same height as her elder sister who, as I have just related, was exceedingly tall and seemed even taller on account of her slenderness. The height of the second sister, by reason of her stoutness, appeared less remarkable. The youngest sister was as thin and tall as the eldest, but her frame was even more delicate, while a look of unspeakable sadness veiled the blue depths of her eyes.
Lady Flayskin had punished all three of them, for some childish fault or for no fault at all. Had all been gulity at the same time it would indeed have been strange. The notion of a plot was impossible in this establishment, even in the case of sisters. The discipline of the corset not only brought about a reduction of the waist but also reduced initiative and courage. No one of the girls or boys who were educated in the academy would have dared to conceal anything from the mistresses. The fear of the whip, too, was an added incentive to constant and cringing submission.
If one of the pupils had thought of carrying out some plot, no matter how innocent might have been the projected escapade, it is certain that one of those led into the secret whether boy or girl, would have done their best to swiftly master all the details in order to reveal the whole matter to one of the mistresses wihtout delay.
Lady Flayskin, when in humour to punish, did not require a peccadillo to be necessarily committed by the selected victim. She herself imagined the fault and the victim experienced the whip. She always contrived to give an appearance of justice to her wrath. Her hypocrisy was unbounded. There was no appeal from her judgments and any attempt to gain a hearing brought added punishment as the result of such imprudence.
The three sisters stood in a row, very erect, the head well up and the neck stretched as high as possible. The leather collar which was occasionally worn by the other pupils was always worn by these three girls, except when outside the school walls, when habit enabled them to hold up their heads stiffly. They frequently went out walking and visiting and were always accompanied by Lady Flayskin herself. I learnt the meaning of these exhibitions later. The four of them would go to parties in the best London society. Apart from ladies of the most aristocratic exclusiveness, there would be politicians of grave and austere mien, merchant princes, judges, all men of note and position, and they would, men or women alike, behave to these unfortunate girls with nameless barbarity. These people were the friends of the directress of the school. Beneath an exterior ef austere morality, all concealed the most vicious instincts. After an elegant dinner, followed by some equally good music or perhaps by a dance, in fact after an evening spent in a fashion customary in all good society, an orgy ensued. This would begin by admiring the "Wasps," as the sisters were called on account of the extraordinary smallness of their waists. Conversation regarding their figures would follow. Then a desire would be expressed to see and handle. After many apparent refusals, Lady Flayskin, liking people to beg her favours, and who wished to make the projected entertainment last longer, would tell the girls to undress. The men would then exert their biceps to the utmost and would endeavour to lace the stays yet tighter. If, as almost invariably happened, the girls fainted, the whip would arouse them from their swoon.
At the moment of which I am writing, they were doing their best to smile at Lady Flayskin whose pleasure they were awaiting.
The directress, preferring to leave them in the distress of their uncertainty, turned to me and found me toiling with the nameless "combination" which was at the same time drawers and jacket, of kid throughout.
Mrs. Eagle was employing all her strength in the attempt to make the legs of the drawers mount my thighs. The savage fingers of this stout woman pinched the leather and me indifferently. I cried. Lady Flayskin looked at me tenderly and I began to sob. Whether purposely, as is more probable, or through carelessness, these abominable drawers had been made a great deal too tight. It is true my gloves were tight also. They yielded a little, though far from sufficiently for comfort. As to Mrs. Eagle, that lady was as red as a tomato and perspired and puffed while becoming more impatient. Nor were her feelings calmed by Lady Flayskin who watched her with compressed lips and who twice or thrice had coldly remarked:
"Not like that! Ah! my poor Mrs Eagle, I thought you had more skill!"
The under-mistress, irritated by observations to which she dared not reply, continued her efforts with even more violence and avenged herself on my skin. Her thick, strong ringers would seize and pinch a piece of my skin without pity, while I had to do my utmost to make no sound.
With eyes dilated by pain, I followed the progress of the wretched garment which, in spite of all difficulties, was actually beginning to climb my thighs like a thick black snake.
At last, it was accomplished! The sensation of being so compressed was far from agreeable. They had even been obliged to powder the interior of the garment to permit it to be drawn over my body, clammy with pain and fear. It was now only a question of buttoning the jacket. It was fastened diagonally by mother-o'-pearl buttons which began at the left shoulder and ended at the right hip. It was an even more difficult matter than the fastening of the drawers and infinitely more painful. The fixing of the very first button was terrible.
My skin had become caught between the button and the button-hole, and in spite of this, the malicious fingers of Mrs. Eagle did their best to complete the buttoning, skin and all. I writhed with pain and she had to struggle anew at her task, though not before administering me a vigorous thump on my head with her heavy hand. I began to moan and weep softly
Lady Flayskin again intervened.
"Why do you strike him?"
"He uses all his efforts to get away. The button was just going in when he shifted again, little brute that he is! It's no easy task to dress such a child."
"Because you are clumsy, I repeat. Since he shows a disposition to resist you, his new drawers shall be christened by a good flogging with the horsewhip."
I joined my hands together and burst into sobs. Hiltherto I had only been birched. The horsewhip appeared much more horrible.
Lady Flayskin took no notice of my pantomime of despair. She merely thrust Mrs. Eagle aside and remarked coldly:
"Give me your place. As you are unable to dress him I will do it myself."
The under-mistress did not dare to make the least objection, but she gave me a covert glance of malice which boded ill for me as soon as I should be again alone with her.
Lady Flayskin had not been incorrect in styling the under-mistress as clumsy. She herself made proof of incredible dexterity.
Seizing the button firmly, she put it into the button-hole without pinching my skin at all. Still the pain she gave me was extreme. She had no thought for my feelings as she compressed my little chest and I could scarcely breathe. It seemed to me that my sufferings would never end except at the expense of crushed ribs. Fear of the whip, however, made me control my feelings as well as I could, although I had but faint hopes of being let off the promised punishment.
Meanwhile the young ladies with their wasplike waists had undressed in accordance with the order given them by terrible Lady Flayskin.
They had first of all drawn off their long, black kid gloves, hanging them with extreme care upon the backs of their chairs, in such a way that no pair hung lower than another by so much as a fraction of an inch. To this points the directress, who attached extreme importance to details, paid vigilant attention. Then, still in an orderly methodical manner, they had taken off their dresses. This was an easy matter, but it was otherwise when the corset had to be removed, a terrible and painful undertaking. The three unfortunate girls had their stomachs so compressed that it was impossible to make them recede farther. To takeoff their corsets appeared to be a task even more beyond their powers than that of putting them on. The stiffening whalebones appeared inseparable from their flesh, and it seemed impossible to remove the stays without at the same time removing the skin of the wearers. With heads thrown back, pale as death, they struggled until their active fingers became numbed and for just a moment, they paused. The cutting voice of Lady Flayskin immediately reproved their idleness. They therefore recommenced their seemingly impossible task. At length, one of them succeeded in undoing a hook and the corset at once came together yet tighter at the top, compressing her breasts with such violence that overcome by her sufferings she almost fell to the ground. She continued her efforts in spite of all, eager to gain a little respite from the awful compression, even at the expense of the whipping which the directress had announced would follow the performance of her task. At length, with a groaning sigh, she managed to detach the corset entirely from her body. She held it at arm's length and with the other hand, she energetically rubbed her back to relieve the unendurable irritation.
All three were now undressed. Their sumptuous clothes were laid out in orderly fashion and each pair of boots was placed neatly in front of a chair. I was stupefied at the sight of those boots. My own, at which I had so bitterly grumbled, were not to be compared with these. Their tips were varnished and the leather was picked out in white stitching which showed up effectively on the dark ground. The heels were, of course, very high, and cut away to an extraordinary extent. Indeed the foot when encased seemed almost in a line with the leg. The length, however, of the boots was exaggerated and the toes tapered to a very small point. They mounted high up the leg, as far as the calf which in these three young ladies was situated very high up. This is, I am told, an undoubted sign of aristocratic birth.
Whether aristocratic or not, the lines of their figures were very graceful, and perhaps this was entirely due to the efforts of Lady Flayskin
Young as I was, and incompetent therefore to criticise feminine beauty, these excessively slender waists struck me as ridiculous, more especially in the case of the second sister whose body filled and stretched her "combination" almost to bursting point. She was a perfect ball of a girl. Her breasts were large and natur ally very firm, for she was fifteen years old. Her stomach, freed now from the compression of the corset, but squeezed by the, leather garment, was nevertheless able to take its natural somewhat protruding position. In short, her general appearance with her large shoulders and arms, as big as those of Mrs. Eagle, her thick legs and thighs and swelling calves, formed a striking contrast with the small narrow waist, the latter seem ing to be a slender isthmus uniting the two voluminous peninsulars of the breast and the vast fat chest with the monstrous hinder parts and hips. It is to be supposed that Lady Flayskin's opinion and my own were not the same on this subject, and I was careful not to express my thoughts aloud. I am of this opinion because I noticed the look of satisfaction bestowed by the head mistress upon the three young ladies now clothed so summarily in their tight-fitting black kid combinations. Possibly the mistress's eye shone most as it surveyed the stout chubby cheeked girl who formed such a contrast with her slender sisters. They stood in a row, as modestly as they could, although the scanty nature of their cos tume was such as to reveal with a near approach to indecency, rather than to conceal the exact shape of the lassies wearing it. They awaited the pleasure of their directress who was occupied in martyrising me by buttoning the horrible combination. She did not spare me a single button's agony. At length her task was completed. The horrible garment was buttoned up. Its coldness struck ice into my bones; it seemed to choke my heart and lungs struggling vainly to resist the attack upon their natural freedom. It is needless to enquire if I was in dire distress. I suffered even more in mind than in body. The directress ordered me to remove my stockings and my pains were increased, for upon trying to lean forward to obey her, this leather corset, at once so supple and so inflexible, resisted all my efforts. I stooped to the right and then to the left with no more success in one direction than in another. Fearintensified my discomfort, as the direct ress laughed, watching my sterile efforts to obey her.
Being unable to lean forward, I tried to go on my knees.
The horrible tightness of the drawers impeded all movements. My back seemed paralysed and I had the notion, no doubt only imaginary, that the garment was splitting.
If it had really split, how terrible would have been my punishment!
At last, moving my arms in order to ease my shoulders, I succeeded in making these stockings, which I was told to remove, descend a little way. Seeing then clearly that I should never succeed in my task by the employment of hands alone, I adopted another method. I put one foot upon the other, and then by with drawing the one which was beneath, endea voured to pull off the stocking at the same time.
The directress said nothing on seeing my fresh device for doing her bidding, but took up a heavy horsewhip from the mantlepiece.
At that moment, though I do not know how I contrived it, I succeeded in raising one foot up to the height of my hand on the same side, and in grasping and removing the stocking; and, as by miracle, I succeeded with the other stocking too.
My costume was now exactly similar to that of the three young ladies, for I wore nothing but the ridiculous combination, formed of a single piece. Chest and thighs were bare, stained with the black of the glazed kid which had effectually left its mark upon my white skin.
But I differed from the girls in having my hair cut short. I was not so very different in general appearance from the eldest and the youngest whose bodies were thin and entremely unpronounced in outline except as regards the waist. On the other hand, I in no way resembled the second sister whose bulging, enormous proportions would have filled the room had her garment given way.
The directress now examined us at length, measuring and weighing us, and noting the circumference of our waists. The result of her examination she carefully inscribed in a note book she kept fort that purpose.
Then she announced that we now had to submit to the punishment we had merited. Brandishing the horsewhip with an air of inexorable decision, she took hold of the eldest girl by the nape of the neck and thrust her down on her knees. The girl's thin hinder parts stretched the drawers so tight that not a wrinkle showed. Then the whip descended with sound and fury, the mistress paying no heed to cries, protestations, and tears of agony. It was next the turn of the second sister to bend tight her kid-covered vast posterior to the terrible whip, and then the youngest submitted to the same penalty.
My turn arrived only too quickly.
The pain of the application of the rod was even more terrible than those moral agonies I had gone through while awaiting it. Still crying out with the pain, I had then to dress again with all haste in my girlish clothes, not forgetting the boots, under penalty of receiving a supplementary dose of the birch1.
1. The author of this work would be pleased to receive any manuscripts, documents, etc., relating to corporal punishment or discipline, for his private collection. Novels to order.
Apply, by letter only, to billet Chamonix, 592, Bureau restant, n° 1, Paris.