For several days the girl was very ill. She lay upon her stomach in bed and cried out with terror so often as the maids pulled down the bedclothes with the charitable object of rubbing some oil into the skin of the injured parts.
I was well again before she was. It is true that my own whipping was mere child's play in comparison with that to which the cruelty of the head-mistress had treated her, with the object of crushing her haughty dis position once for all.
When she returned to her lessons, therefore, I was able to witness the effects produced.
Ah, what gentleness of expression! What humility of mien! Strange indeed was the contrast between this timorous self-effacement and those haughty airs we had witnessed when first she came among us! She now seemed fearful of exciting the least attention. Directly the head-mistress entered the class-room, every eye was turned upon Miss Virginia. The girl dropped her head upon her bosom; her face was strangely pale and she trembled like a leaf.
Lady Flayskin signed to her to follow her. Miss Malville obeyed instantly.
After her interview with the head-mistress, she was even paler than when she rose to leave the room, while she appeared to have difficulty in making the least movement. Her waist had become smaller and it was plain that she wore a corset very tightly laced. Her elegant buckled shoes she wore no longer, but, instead, high boots with high heels of an exaggerated type, excessively arched at the instep.
We were not long in learning what had transpired. For, in this establishment, the servants were as communicative as we were inquisitive. The head-mistress was alone in the belief, that anything was kept really concealed in this extraordinary school.
When Miss Virginia, in obedience to the imperious gesture, had followed the head mistress into the latter's private room, she did so as though hypnotised. Her walk was halting, plainly showing that her legs tottering beneath her, could scarcely support her body.
When the door closed behind her in the private room of Lady Flayskin, the girl in an apparently overpowering access of devotion, seized the hem of the mistress's robe and put it fervently to her lips. The mistress removed her dress from the girl's hands, and said to her gently, as slavishly she knelt before her:
"Do not fall from one excess into an other. Too proud to begin with, you are now too humble. Getup, sit there and listen attentively to what I have to say to you."
The girl, slightly confused, sat down on the edge of a chair. Her pose expressed extreme contrition.
"This is what I have to say to you, Miss Malville. Greatly to my personal regret, I have been obliged to employ the whip in order to tame you. I hope and believe that the lesson will not be without its fruit. You will not oblige me to subject you to so terrible a chastisement..."
At this point, Lady Flayskin's words were broken into by a storm of tears and sobs. Miss Virginia's whole frame quivered with anguish and uncontrollable emotion as she recalled what she had been through. In tones of entreaty, she cried:
"Oh! Never! Ah! My lady, it was indeed awful!"
"Did you deserve your punishment!"
"Yes, my lady!" said the poor girl with lowered eyes, deep crimson suffusing the cheeks so deathly pale a moment before.
"It is an excellent practice to confess the faults we have committed."
She looked fixedly at the girl and continued:
"Pay good heed to what I say. When you arrived here and your father, worthy Lord Malville, presented you to me, I was able to sum you up in a moment. Virginia, you have excellent qualities, but unfortunately the deplorable education to which you were subjected before entering these walls had stifled those qualities. It was clear tome, from the moment my eyes first rested on you, that I should have to commence by seriously flogging you. That first step has been made. I have now no anxiety as to your tractability."
Here the girl burst anew into tears and sobs, replying to this diagnosis of her case:
"Yes, indeed, my lady!"
The mistress motioned to her to be silent and said severely:
"I will add that you have further to learn not to interrupt. In a young girl, no conduct could appear more bold and disgracious. Apply yourself to the task of learning to listen to the end, irrespectively of the nature of the words adressed to you."
After a moment's pause to assure herself that her words had gone home, she continued:
"I have therefore had preliminary recourse to the whip because otherwise I should have failed in exacting that absolute deference to my every wish which I require in the case of all my 'pupils. A moment ago, I spoke of your remarkable naturel qualities. You are very intelligent. I am sure of it. The difficulty has been that your instructors have been ignorant, that is all. Again, your physical charms are of high order, for you are beau tiful, Virginia. Your beauty, however, has been neglected."
She had drawn her chair close up to that ot the girl and, stooping down, now took one of the latter's feet into her hands. Contempt uously she drew off one low shoe and her fingers moved lightly and caressingly across the open work silk stocking on the sole of the foot.
The girl gave a nervous laugh and cried:
"Oh! my lady, stop! You tickle me!"
The mistress appeared not to hear and con tinued this strange treatment of a pupil by first lightly touching the ankle with her active fingers and then pushing her hand up the leg until it rested upon the firm-fleshed, well rounded calf.
"Shoes! What an idea to wear shoes like a waiting-woman when this strong and graceful leg would show to such good effect in a high boot! You require a narrow long boot of fine kid, with polished tips, and heels so high that you would appear three inches taller than you are. You must have an arched boot that shall do justice to your charming instep. Yes, certainly! Presently you shall put on the boots you see here. They have been made expressly for you, to your measure; but the makers have been instructed to design them narrower than your shoes which they have had as a pattern. Your old shoes must be quite shabby from use."
"Oh, not in the least, my lady !"
"I have already told you that you are not to interrupt me. It is even more important that you do not contradict me."
"Certainly, my lady. What are you doing? Oh! I beg you to leave me alone! Oh! do stop!" Lady Flayskin was fingering the drawers above the thighs and she said in accents of scorn:
"I have never heard of such an idea! What a corset! And as for this busk it has no rigidity whatever. It is soft, it is yielding and useless. The bones of a corset must be hard and unyield ing."
Her fingers continued groping, while Miss Virginia, with head thrown back, laughed hysterically.
Lady Flayskin at length ceased her researches and said:
"You must at once remove all this trumpery and put on the clothes which you see here. You must have remarked that we have a school uniform. We are all of us devotees of Saint Muslin. Muslin is cool, becoming, and in every way suitable for young girls. Your silk dress, on the contrary, is exceedingly pretentious. I repeat that you must try and get accustomed to our modesty of bearing.
Modesty is the noblest ornament a woman can wear aud that which man prizes, when he discovers it, more than all our other charms. It is therefore essential that your under garments should be selected with great care. What is more captivanting than a slender waist? It is our waist that gives us that gracefulness and lightness of carriage which distinguishes us from men, and it is a tight-laced corset alone which gives us this distinguishing feature. In short, it is the corset which marks the woman of superior civilisation from her humbler sisters. Without it, a woman may possess good looks, but she will remain heavy, massive, almost animal. The corset is the bestower not only of beauty and elegance but also of poise. Where the wearer has already grace of bearing, her grace will be accentuated; should she be ungrace-ful, it is the corset which will give her the charm she lacked, on condition that the lacing is tightly drawn. What can you hope for from an appliance such as you have upon you at this moment? Those ridiculous whalebones with no resistance, are no support whatever. See, too, how easily I bend them and how simple a matter it is to pass my fingers beneath your corset. Why, dear Virginia, you are not drawn in the least! We must immediately remedy matters."
She had been suiting the action to her words and her fingers which she had slipped beneath the. corset were tickling the hips of the girl who twisted herself about and laughed without pleasure.
"Undress yourself, Virginia, that I may see you in all the glory of your beauty."
Had such an order been given to the haughty girl a few days previously, that is to say, before the memorable flogging, she would only, in reply, have laughed disdainfully and sardonically.
It was the lady's maid upon whom that duty devolved. Of what use is it to be the daughter of a noble house, if one is not to have servants at one's beck and call? And if the lady's maid cannot come immediately, some other woman of the household must do the bidding of her young mistress.
Doubtless such would have been the thoughts passing though Miss Virginia's brain a few days before and she would not have failed to com municate them to lady Flayskin, who in the opinion of the young lady -- which she would not have hesitated to communicate -- could and ought to serve her pupil as lady's maid. Was she not Miss Virginia Malville, a member of a family far more ancient and powerful than that to which Lady Flayskin belonged?
At the present moment any feeling of repugnance at the notion of baring her body before anyone except a serving-woman, did not cross the mind of the haughty young lady.
Very obediently, she sat down and, to begin with drew off the shoe which the mistress had not removed. She then unhooked her dress, and unconsciously returning to her manner of former days cast the garment aside, negli gently careless as to how or where it fell. The directress immediately scolded her with severity.
"Among the principal of feminine qualities is that of order. The future of a girl who lacks this sovereign quality offers no assurance, and her riches will avail her nothing. Man is well aware of the value of this quality and should he find himself united to an untidy, wasteful woman, he is not slow to make his partner's life a burden to her. Take up the dress you have so carelessly cast into that corner! Fold it carefully and hang it over the back of this chair. Do you understand me? "
The girl replied confusedly in a low tone:
"Yes, my lady."
She took, off her petticoat and her corset, the latter with perfect case, then her drawers of fine cambric, embroidered with satin. The drawers slipped down her thights seemed to catch for a moment at the calves of the legs and finally lay round the little feet. The girl looked at the garment hesitatingly and Lady Flayskin kindly remarked:
"I understand your hesitation. For a young girl, it is disagreeable to have to rid her legs of her drawers in the presence of another person. This notion, however, must be overcome, for it is only a notion. Come, courage, my dear pupil!"
The girl appeared electrified by these words, affectionate though they were, and drew her legs resolutely free from her drawers and petticoat. Then, as in the case of the other garments, she hung these also over a chair, observing scrupulous care to do so in an orderly way, far she had not forgotten the ominous words Lady Flayskin addressed to her after her previous negligence.
Her chemise now only remained and a thin silk vest which the girl wore next her skin. The chemise was only held for a moment by the ample hips before it slipped down. Lady Flayskin, in her impatience, was acting as lady's maid, quite forgetful of her dignity. Her ready hands aided the descent of the chemise and then grasped the narrow sleeve of the vest. The girl was thus able to rid herself of both garments the more speedily.
Then the mistress, her eyes glistening with pleasure, surveyed her patrician pupil.
It would not have been possible to find a statue whose beauty was at once so correct, classic, and at the same time so attractive, graceful, and harmonious. Supple and vigorous force was betrayed in every movement of the slender frame.
The girl's colour was pink and white. Her skin was incomparably smooth and transparent. It was the true British complexion, the tint of a delicate English rose.
Her hair was a wealth of gleaming burnished gold, Its Venetian tint is even rarer on the shore of the Adriatic than amid the fogs of London. Her mouth was small, beautifully chiselled, and of a deep cherry-red. Her eyes were of a colour impossible to define, for it changed with every angle and degree of light. Sometimes they were grey as the sea beneath a cloudy wind-swept sky.
A moment afterwards, they would reflect the darkness of unfathomable watery depths.
But if her complexion was exquisite, what words shall describe her grace of symmetry?
Miss Virginia's body was at the same time elegant and charming and of the purest classicism. Her flesh was neither too abundant nor insufficient. In her proud young purity, she held her graceful head erect and the points of her firm breasts were turned skywards like wild strawberries on a bed of snow. Her neck was swan-like, and her arms would have matched those of a Spartan wrestling woman as revealed to us by the sculptors of Greece. Her legs were the noble limbs of Diana. In short, the girl's aristocratic beauty was that of the three goddesses who upon Ida's Mount disputed the vote of the shepherd and competed for the apple of discord. Miss Virginia's beauty was as moving and seductive as that of Venus and as unapproachable as that of Juno, while to her other charms seemed to be added something of the calm and repose of wise Minerva.
I employ these high-sounding terms because I am reporting the head-mistress's own eulogy of her pupil.
Lady Flayskin, during her careful examin ation of Miss Virginia, made use of all these expressions and of many others also which I shall not repeat. Her feelings became too much for her and in the exceedingly descriptive and familiar language in which she dwelt upon some of those charms of her pupil which are not usually alluded to, she forgot her usual hypocrisy.
Miss Virginia could only deeply blush, thus adding new charm to her beauty. She scarcely moved, except to show the lines of her figure to better effect, her long hair descending in a stream of glory almost to her little pink heels.
The mistress placed a hand affectionately upon the firm rounded haunches of her pupil and said:
"The marks do not show any more. It was far from my intention to spoil so incomparable a masterpiece. Now had I with this rough and heavy lash struck with all my strength, red scars would now mark this adorable flesh; frightful marks disfiguring your lily skin. I am content, quite content... Ah! Virginia, I wish you to be with me the happiest of girls. I wish to bring you to that perfection of which the Bible speaks... Yes, I wish..."
While speaking, she put her arms around the big, bare, supple body, and pressing her lips to those of her pupil, fanned her with burning breath.
Then she drew her towards a large sofa in order to talk more comfortably.
Lady Flayskin took off her own clothes also and remarked:
"You see I am not without beauty even as compared with you."
Never had the had-mistress shown herself so affectionate with any of her pupils.
If she was wont to give free course to her vice, if she did not oppose the slightest check upon her passionate desires, she nevertheless managed to do all with absolute self-control, both as regards actions and words. She would proceed to the worst Lesbian extremities while talking of the lofty claims of morality. Her victims did not know in the least what to think. Sometimes the girls would be con vinced that Lady Flayskin, who had just made some most moral discourse, must be a saint; while an hour afterwards her actions would render them as perplexed as ever.
In the present instance, Miss Virginia's physical feelings, under the treatment of the skilled and passionate mistress, became of a kind she had never previously experienced. Unconsciously she returned the burning kisses she was receiving.
Both mistress and pupil became possessed with extraordinary sensual exaltation. In the case of Virginia, little or attempt was made to control the tide of delirious, delicious sensa tions. Each would cast herself into the arms of the other and then for a moment they would slowly draw apart and look with glowing burning eyes at the spectacle of unveiled beauty before them. Then with the tips of their fingers they would lightly touch one another and kiss until almost frenzied with delight.
The mistress was the first to recover herself. In slow and measured tones, after her usual manner, she made the following hypocritical speech:
"Beauty, Miss, is not the only requisite. You cannot appear as you are usually dressed in a drawing-room. In our country, the first country of the world, we are not excessively prudish. In Society, low-necked dresses are more than tolerated. A young girl, no matter how pure and stainless she may be, is permitted to show nearly the whole of her bust. But this she must do with skill and as though seeking to conceal what a thin gauze covering reveals only too intoxicatingly to her dazzled partner in the waltz. His feelings are deeply stirred as there rises to his enraptured senses the fragrance of the breasts, this centre of feminine seduction. The arms may also be exposed. In my opinion, however, their allure ment is considerably enhanced when concealed by long close-fitting gloves of a dark tint. A little bare skin above the elbow, but only a little, should be shown. This partial exposure will be found sufficient to conquer admirers.
"If I frequently insist upon the importance of such matters, it is because the duty of a woman consists, if she would assure herself of happiness, in her ability to attach indissolubly the desires of men to her charms. Men have predominance over women as regards muscular or brute force, but we, with our powers of seduction, are able to crush their boasted strength to a pulp. Let us learn therefore to use our gifts nobly and well. You, dear Virginia, are of a becoming height. If the high heels which I oblige you to wear were designed solely for accentuating the height, in your case at any rate, they would be of no advantage. But they serve ultimately to give to the deport ment charming seriousness and well-bred dignity, fitting in well with that timidity of character which, in the eyes of the stronger sex, is not the least of our attractions. By curious contradiction, the style of deportment to which I allude, gives us at the same time a certain boldness of appearance which is a useful corrective to an air of timidity possibly so pronounced as to inspire masculine admirers with fear to approach and disturb such coy and shrinking charms. The boot which reaches high up the leg conveys the impression of beauty of a proud imperious order, made for the crushing of hearts beneath our feet; and, at the same time, such a boot is symbolical of the slavery to which, of one's own will or through the energy of a man, we are momentarily sub,jected. Need I remark to you that your narrow, high-bred foot would profit by being adorned with a long tight boot? Your insted is already finely arched, but its line would gain in grace through the wearing of a exceed ingly arched boot with heels so high that the toes should be almost vertically beneath the level of the heel? She, too, how these heels are scooped out. Dubarry herself wore nothing more skilfully designed. These boots, intended for you use, are, you must acknowledge, veritable jewels or, to describe them better, perfect caskets suited for the treasures they will enclose. Here, dear Miss Malville, are your stockings. Your usual ones are pretty, but you must observe the rules of my academy. Naturally, I have chosen excellent silk, in preference to any material of less value. See how soft they are! Put them on carefully, drawing them up properly, for one of the rules of this establishment is that stockings shall never show a wrinkle."
The girl crossed one leg over the other, as she sat on the edge of the couch, and obediently began to put on a stocking. Lady Flayskin watched her with a look of graciousness and amusement, for truly, the homely position gave the girl additional attractiveness. The variety of her charms was not indeed Virginia's least attraction. She put on both stockings with the carefulness, as regarded creases, to which she had been enjoined, and then received the boots from her mistress's hands.
But now her task was not so simple. The mistress had characterised the little low shoes which Virginia was in the habit of wearing as flabby and shabby. They fitted her exactly with no room to spare. Lady Flayskin had, consequently, given instructions to the boot maker to make the footgear much narrower than the pattern entrusted to him. Poor Virginia had therefore now to wrestle with an insoluble problem, the insertion in a given space of a body greater than that space. But woman boldly faces what to the logician appears impossible, and she conquers. Virginia made many wry, but becoming grimaces, heaved some big sighs, uttered sundry little cries, appeared greatly at a loss, even shed some tears, and finally struck forcibly on the ground with her heel, like an impatient mare pawing the soil, and finally succeeded in finding one foot within a boot. She paused a moment for breath. Then she resolutely set about getting the other boot on, while also declaring that she was horribly pinched and that never would she be able to walk in boots so narrow and uncomfortable.
Lady Flayskin corrected her in tones of severity.
"You must learn that it is necessary to be
able to suffer in order to be beautiful. These
boots f t you perfectly. See how wonderfully
well your foot is now set off and how the calf
now shows to advantage. Presently, when you
have buttoned both boots up, you will speak.
differently, You wiII thank me. The slight feeling of pain will, it is true, moderate your gratitude, but that feeling will pass as the leather yields and your feet grow used to their new covering. You will then be proud to be so well shod, for, I repeat, we are now dealing with a point of prime importance in your apparel,"
The pretty pupil had succeeded in getting both boots on, and standing by the sofa, she placed alternatively one foot and then the other thereon in order to fasten the buttons. Such irreverent treatment of her sofa, Lady Flayskin would not have tolerated in the case of any other pupil.
Virginia was clothed only in her creaseless black silk stockings and her high boots, the latter reflecting the light from their polished tips. Her large posterior was thrust far out, as she bent to her task, showing her back, narrow at the waist and broadening at the shoulders. The girl appeared superb in this attitude.
It was consequently not without a little sigh of regret that Lady Flayskin painted out to her the chemise of fine lawn together with the other garments intended for her use, all of which were laid out on a chair near her.
As the dressing began, the mistress sighed anew as she watched the partial eclipse of the perfect breasts, the snowy thighs and the peerless hinder globes.
Nevertheless, Miss Virginia's chemise did not by any means annihilate her seductiveness. Her aristocratic pride was now tempered by the modesty she had had instilled into her by the whip. She was moreover a spotless virgin. The net result was an inexpressible charm, greatly to the taste of the perverse-minded directress of the establishment who was a veritable connaisseuse in sensual impressions, from long experience.
After another interval of silent admiration, Lady Flayskin said:
"Now see how well your clothes become you! Admire once more the boots which fit you to perfection. It is difficult for you to believe how they will enhance your attractiveness. Drawers and chemise are necessary parts of a lady's costume, but there is a garment of more importance. I place the boots, important though they are, below the stays, and please do not interpret this words in any ridiculous fashion. As regards any such interpretation, I have something to say to you. You have just smiled during my address to you. Accustom yourself to listen to everything I say to you, not only without interrupting, but without giving any sign either of approval or of disapproval. In a word, do not show any feeling whatever. The only requisite, which politeness renders obligatory, is profound attention. Do not forget.
"No, my lady."
"Do you understand the importance of my words?
"Perfectly, my lady."
"I congratulate you. I am decidedly of opinion that the whip has been most profitable to you. Are you not of the same opinion?"
"Certainly, my lady."
"Nevertheless, I shall not be so exacting as to expect you to thank me for your whipping. That, probably, you would find it difficult to do with any heartiness. Am I not correct in my surmise? "
Both laughed, Lady Flayskin with open amusement, Miss Malville in a constrained and rather frightened way. It was a desire to please which had made her laugh, for she was afraid.
Poor girl, she had been right in her fears! Her astute mistress had had her own reasons for recalling to the mind of the pupil the cruel flogging with the thong of hide.
Her object was simply to make the girl comprehend perfectly, in the case of the smallest notion of rebellion remaining in the latter's mind, that it was indispensable for her to submit to the disciplining power of the corset unless she desired a second application of the treatment which had reduced her posteriors to such a sorry state.
Miss Malville quite un derstood the mistress's meaning and her terror of the corset was not diminished on that account.
The reality far surpassed her expectations. The pair of stays had evidently been made by a corset-maker of the highest class. Both shape and material showed it to be the work of an artist. That was indisputable. The other pupils had to be content with corsets of strong linen, but this was of brocaded silk and the workmanship had been carefully and beautifully finished off. The whalebone and steel stiffeners were numerous and seemed at first to be of an extreme rigidity. Such, however, was not the case. This corset, in its pronounced an fashionable model, was as supple as it was elegant.
Miss Malville, on holding it in her hands, was not at first disposed to greatly fear it. But so soon as she had it on her body and endeavoured to hook it, her difficultie began. The more the girl tried to perform her task, the more hopelessly impossible that feat appeared.
Her ladyship watched these unsuccessful efforts with an interested and illboding eye.
She did not yet, however, intervene.
Miss Malville drew her stomach in, raised her arms high, exhausted herself, stopped, recommenced her impossible task, but all to no purpose. She was then about to loosen the side-lacing and thus make the stays larger.
"Ah! I emphatically forbid you to do that!" exclaimed Lady Flayskin.
"Then how shall I manage?"
"Set to work honestly, with courage, and without being afraid of pinching your skin. What? You do not know how to put on a corset?"
"But this corset is not like others!"
"It is you who are not like others!"
Virginia lowered her head, raised it anew, and struggled with might and main, but all to no purpose.
Her ladyship's tone became menacing.
"I am afraid there is trouble in store!"
But Virginia replied, in a somewhat sulky tone:
"It is impossible!"
She held the corset in her hands, uncertain as to what she was to do with it.
Lady Flayskin took a chair in front of her and looking at her fixedly, said, with lips trembling with anger:
"You are going to put it on immediately."
The young girl, overcome by her hard and useless struggle, burst into tears and sobs.
"I cannot! I cannot!"
"Yes, you can!"
"I tell you that I cannot !"
"Say that you will not!"
"Oh's" and "ah's" are useless. I give you two minutes in which to put it on and fasten it."
With a significant air, the mistress went to the drawer of the large cupboard where the birches were ranged in order. She searched among them, making a whistling sound with the twigs similar to that made by the autumnal leaves which whirl together as they fall. Poor Virginia could not help being moved by this sinister noise. Her teeth chattered and, in consequence she bit her tongue. This little accident is often very painful and, in this case, Virginia in her momentary suffering, opened her hands and dropped the corset to the ground.
Terrified by the probable consequences of this fresh misfortune, the poor girl now sank upon a chair, covered her face with her hands and wept bitterly.
To add to her affliction, the wrathful mistress had at length fixed upon her selection of a rod. The chosen instrument was long and thin, and its tapering proportions were such as to inspire the greatest terror as it cut through the air - the directress was already swishing it hither and thither in a horrible manner.
Virginia's sobs redoubled, but she showed no signs of an intention to renew her efforts with the corset.
Her ladyship addressed her:
"Well! I am waiting for you."
The girl was stung by the injustice and cried:
"It is impossible, as you very well know."
Lady Flayskin adopted a more conciliatory tone and said:
"Shall we try together?"
"It is useless. The stays are too small!"
"Mind what you are saying!"
"Oh! If you were to whip me to death, you would not succeed in getting this corset fastened."
"We shall see. I have offered you my aid, a thing I never do, and you have refused it. I shall help you, nevertheless, but not until after I have first well whipped you. It is fitting that you should experience the difference between the birch-rod and the cane. The latter is, it is true, an instrument of greater ferocity than the birch, but the rod has a treacherous cunning all its own."
"Leave me alone! Leave me alone! I don't want to be whipped. I prefer to but on the corset."
"You shall first be whipped. Certainly you shall put on this corset and I will help you. But since you have defied me to whip you to death, I accept your challenge. I am not in the habit of taking no notice of such high speeches. Once again you have been impertinent in spite of my kindness and it is necessary to punish you. Come, go down on your knees in front of the sofa. Put your face on the edge. Like that! Yes! Draw up your chemise and hold it in your hands. Take care not to let it fall again nor to try to protect your posteriors with your hands."
The girl was now indeed and object for pity as she cried for mercy with tears and entreaties. But she obeyed without delay the bidding of the mistress, who was secretly delighted with this tractableness and docility. Henceforward, plainly, the once high-spirited, haughty girl would show herself completely tamed and cowed by the whip, ready in every particular to render complete obedience to her mistress now and to her master later on.
Virginia awaited her punishment kneeling humbly, ready to endure upon ger protruding posterior the penalty which a fault of so slight and venial a nature had incurred.
The mistress stepped forward with heart untouched by the charms before her. It seemed rather that her wrath was stimulated by the sight of this vast globe which reflected so little of the emotions of the unfortunate young lady. Lady Flayskin felt that these spheres were mocking her as she laid a preliminary cut across them causing an electric tremor, as it were, to stir their phlegmatic placidity.
Then, in no way disarmed by the tears, cries, protestations and groans of the girl, Lady Flayskin whipped her with her usual power and assurance, yet calmly and methodically as was fitting in a lady of her position. She did not neglect, however, to put all her strength into her task.
She could allow herself to go to work with the utmost energy without running any risk of injuring the beautiful hinder part whose correction she had undertaken. She had selected the longest and most slender of the birches. The one she was now employing consisted of six birch-tree twigs tied together. They were of extraordinary elasticity, strength and length, and the rod was a real work of art in which the maker, Lady Flayskin, had displayed consummate skill.
There could be no doubt that the rod was an ideal one, admirably adapted for inflicting a thousand cruel smarts upon the skin's surface, together with the most painful yearnings. It was an instrument for drawing the blood up to the rounded surface, but not for making it flow. Rather was it a meet revel for the outpouring of passion, for firing a soul with ardour unquenchable. This whip's true end was not the infliction of cruel punishment. It was an instrument for breaking the skin without causing blood to appear. It was a whip for amorous cruelty, one such as the tenderest of lovers would wish to possess wherewith to soften the heart of his mistress by a sting and a caress. It was at the same time designed rather to inspire love than fear.
Yet as this rod sang and whistled in the air and descended whack! on the tender surface of a sensitive part of the young lady, the globe could not but writhe its vast proportions in a fashion which the malicious flogger found extremely tasteful.
The pearl-like skin assumed the appearance of marble veined with purple and rose-red streaks. The magnificent crupper, so impertinent a short time previously, seemed now to blush with confusion.
The poor girl cried out that she was being done to death and that she intended to offer no resistance to her murderer, that her sufferings were unspeakable. These cries were broken by groans of agony, but nothing availed to arouse the compassion of her ladyship who well knew what she was about.
She found her employment too enjoyable to abandon it yet awhile.
She seemed indeed to devote herself to her task with ever increasing gusto, and without for a moment forgetting the particular methods of applying the rod which a long experience had shown to be most efficacious. She had stood first on the right side and had flogged the hemispheres crosswise. Now she stood on the left side and performed the same process.
Then she had taken a curious implement and put it within reach of her and before employing it.
It consisted of an ebony stick of about a foot in length. At each extremity, was a widely branching fork to which was attached a strap and buckle. This she inserted between the legs of the poor girl who could see nothing of these sinister preparations, but who trem bled the more for her uncertainty.
She did well to tremble.
Lady Flayskin attached the straps to the victim's knees. Virginia was now obliged by the ebony rod to keep her legs apart, nor could she possibly rise to her feet.
The preparations finished, her ladyship placed herself behind the girl and laid a firm hand on her neck. Pitilessly deaf to the piercing shrieks of the unfortunate victim, and easily controlling all efforts to escape her hold, she proceeded with all her strength to flog lengthwise, from below upwards.
The rod whistled and curled and the girl writhed and squirmed beneath this cruelty.
It was no use for her to cry in broken syllables that she would prefer, ten times over, the hide-covered scourge; that her sufferings were more than she could bear. It was in vain that she entreated her pitiless mistress to finish with one good bow rather than kill her by inches. In spite of all she could cry or entreat, she was destined to drink her cup of agony to the dregs -- or, at any rate, until the arm of Lady Flayskin grew tired.
The flogging was plainly of long duration, and Virginia was more dead than alive when at length she was freed from the curious thigh-dividing implement which had exposed her tenderest parts to the biting cruelty of the birch without enabling her to protect herself in the least from its stinging attacks.
With maternal solicitude, her ladyship now took the weeping girl and raising her in her arms, laid her upon the sofa where she continued to sob, her face covered by her arm, in a manner to touch the most unfeeling heart.
Was savage Lady Flayskin touched? In any case, it is a matter of knowledge that she took a bottle of very old sherry, uncorked it with the respect its venerable antiquity merited and filled two glasses with the really precious wine. One she placed for herself, while the other she offered to her weeping, but still beautiful pupil.
She said to her quite simply:
"Your very good health?"
The girl had withdrawn the arm which covered her face and she now looked with an air of stupefaction at this glass of fine crystal reflecting the warm rich colouring of the topaz hued liquid. What the liquid might be, Virginia did not know, but she looked with dark suspicion, as was natural, at every gesture of Lady Flayskin.
In bitter tones she demanded:
"Is this the consummation of your treatment of me? Do you think now to poison me?"
With a smile of indulgent pity for such folly, the directress, for all reply, put to her own lips the glass she had poured out for herself, drank it off and smacked her lips with an air of enjoyment.
The girl became ashamed of her ridiculous suspicion, did what she had seen done, and found herself feeling much better in consequence. She felt new strength in her body; the sense of prostration caused by the whipping seemed to disappear as the generous wine warmed her blood.
She felt indeed as though she were being warmed by a veritable flame which coursed through her veins increasing the great vibration of the nerves caused by the skilful flogging of Lady Flayskin.
Seeing her rosy cheeks and bright eyes, where tears, which only a moment before had ceased to flow, shone like dewdrops and more brightly than diamonds, Lady Flayskin could not help being moved. Such sweetness and charm compelled her to imprint a kiss upon the cherry lips which immediately returned the token with interest. Yet again was prolonged intercourse exchanged between the woman and the lass upon the sofa and in an exceedingly agreeable fashion.
The directress, however, returned obstin ately to her original purpose.
"Now, dearest, we are going to use our united efforts with the corset."
The girl, overwhelmed with grief, entreated.
"Spare me the suffering, I beg you!"
"Little fool! It is for your good."
"My good, my happiness is to be like this near you, in comfort, free to move about. It is infinite delight. You are wicked! wicked! Let me kiss your beautiful hand at once so cruel and so kind."
"Child!" gasped the mistress.
"Your child! Will you permit it? You shall be my loved mother. But, I beg you, never whip me again as you have to-day."
"You are going to be whipped immediately and in the same manner unless you get up and take your stays."
With a bound, the girl was on her feet. She rushed to the corset and with lips compressed, stomach thrust in, holding her breath the while, began her vain contortions of a short time previously. Now she was to be aided by the mistress. The latter came behind her and placed her knee against the large stern of her pupil. At the same time with both her hands, she thrust forward the two sides of the stays, causing the corset to gradually make its way over the hips.
At one moment, Miss Malville thought the task was accomplished, and in her satisfaction, she permitted herself to take a long breath, an action she had tried for some moments not to indulge in.
Everything had to be begun again.
Lady Flayskin, who had felt her fingers forced back by the irresistible force of the girl's expanding sides as she took breath, became enraged and hissed:
"Well! What are you doing, little fool?"
"The most natural thing, my lady, I am breathing."
" Know then that I am in no mood for joking! A jest should never be made when a task is in course of accomplishment."
The pretty pupil laid the words to heart. The fruitless efforts recommenced. At a moment when the stud seemed on the point of being caught properly by the hook, Miss Virginia, with a piercing cry, loosed her hold. She had inadvertently, though excusably, in her state of mind, caught a little of her delicate skin under the hook and the pain had caused her to loose hold of both hook and stud.
At length, however, one hook was fast. It was then that Miss Virginia shrieked in agony, declaring that her ladyship, while helping her, was hurting her cruelly by pinching her flesh.
Lady Flayskin consented to a moment of respite, only to inquire if her pupil would prefer to continue the task under the whip? Such a suggestion on the part of her implacable mistress did not fail to terrify the young girl.
She did her utmost to make her efforts match those of the more skilful Lady Flayskin whose fingers were engaged in pulling and working the material which seemed as though it would never yield to any treatment. Her ladyship, however, worked with confidence and without pity for the unfortunate girl's flesh, which frequently became caught under the hooks, and poor Virginia who scarcely dared to breathe, had naturally no intention of groaning.
In this way the work went on for an hour, counting the time involved in necessary moments of rest, and then, quite suddenly as frequently happens in such cases, the hooks seemed to close over the buttons as by a miracle.
Her ladyship was as supremely content as if she had concluded the finest of master pieces, and inquired:
Silence was the sole response.
But the expression on the pale face of the poor girl, the terrible dilatation of her large eyes, the half opened mouth from which her breath seemed to hiss out like gas escaping, all this made up a reply which, for all its silence, was none the less eloquent.
The heart of Lady Flayskin remained adamantine and she remarked:
"You see now! You have done your task and it was easy enough. But I notice that the stays fit too loosely; they are not drawn in at all. Come here and let me arrange that for you."
The poor girl, with the stiff steps of an automaton, approached the mistress. She might have been a German soldier, as without turning her head to either right or left by so much as a quarter of an inch, and without bending a knee, she made her military advance. By the way in which she put her foot to the ground and the wry face which accompanied the movement, it was plain that she suffered from her narrow new boots with their exaggerated high heels and endless high sheaths which so pinched and compressed both leg and ankle. The sufferings from the boots were very real, but they did not count, so to speak, in comparison with the agonies she was now enduring from the corset.
She stopped before the mistress with a precision in her right-about half-turn which a soldier of his Imperial Majesty the German Emperor might have envied. Lady Flayskin put a knee against the magnificent posterior and, taking hold of the laces, pulled with all her strength.
She then said that her efforts were being opposed by the girl whose sides were expanding spasmodically though for a most natural reason. The lungs by a reflex movement were struggling for their existence. The instinct of self-preservation is stronger than an intention to be obedient; stronger too than fear of the whip, and the girl was powerless in the grip of that instinct.
With an unpleasant laugh, the head-mistress pushed her victim towards an angle of the room across which was placed a small cupboard. Lady Flayskin was never at a loss for expedients. When she had an end in view no difficulty was permitted to oppose her for long. She had an expedient for surmounting every obstacle in her path. Virginia obeyed the push given her as though she had been a moving corpse.
The little cupboard, when opened, was found to contain, screwed down upon a stand, a pretty little capstan, similar in all respects to those employed on ships for raising the anchor. A strong silk cord was wound round it, ending in a steel hook. The handles for turning the miniature capstan were wanting, for they were, in fact, unnecessary. Lady Flay skin attached the lace of the corset to the steel hook and then pressed an electric button. The capstan then proceeded to turn with extreme deliberation while the unfortunate victim cried in scarcely andible tones that she could feel her bones cracking in her chest.
The capstan continued to turn.
Virginia, with a desperate gesture, raised her hands to her throat, crying:
"I am on fire! Air! I stifle!"
The capstan still turned, but with such slowness that a single revolution had not yet been completed.
The girl beat the air with her arms. She opened her mouth, but no sound now did she make. Her eyes rolled convulsively. A small spot of blood appeared at the corner of the mouth. She fell forwards and her face must have struck the ground had she not been held up by the hook.
Immediately the finger of Lady Flayskin was raised from the electric button and the capstan ceased to revolve.
Virginia, in a dead faint, head hanging for wards, hands touching the ground, feet resting motionless against the bottom of the capstan-stand, was raised by the strong arms of her ladyship, who proceeded to detach the hook. Then she carried her as though she had weighed no more than an infant, and laid her upon the sofa on which the two had been previously seated together.
The application of vinegar to her temples, Eau de Cologne to her wrists, and salts to her nostrils, caused Miss Malville to open her eyes, wherein clearly shone the light of reawakened terror and incipient fever. Her pallor was almost the dread pallor of death though by moments it was exchanged for an equally abnormal deep red flush. In a voice of pain, she said:
"My lady, have pity! I cannot breathe. Set me free. I cannot suffer more. "
But the cruel mistress, far from showing pity, replied:
"Be silent! You are too talkative! The commencement is painful, I know. But as I have told you, it is necessary to know how to suffer in order to acquire beauty. Your sole thought should now be the regulating of your breathing. It is unnecessary for a woman of society to puff like a grampus. Take in just the amount of air that your lungs require. The discomfort will vanish and you will be as beautiful as a dream. There now, stand up! Like that! Let me help you."
The unfortunate girl, in the hope that the change of position would bring her a measure of relief, had attempted to stand up and had fallen heavily backwards. She now lay at full length on the sofa, just as she had been laid there after her faint by Lady Flayskin.
Assisted by the strong arms of the mistress, Virginia rose in a wooden fashion as though she had no joints. A rumbling was in her ears and the voice of Lady Flayshin came to her as though from the other side of a wall. Her sight was dim and difficult, for blood rushed to her head, giving a look of smouldering fire to her pupils. This look would quickly disappear and the eyes would appear as colourless and expressionless as doubtless did, to their owner, the scene upon which they fell. Lady Flayshin spoke again.
"You shall see how beautiful you are going to be. This corset fits you perfectly, it inakes you appear delicious, dearest. When you have on your dress... no, not the silk one you have taken off... the other one, of muslin, in accordance with the regulations of the establishment... I tell you that when you wear this its dress, waist measure matching that of the corset, and when you look in the glass, you will not recognise yourself...
Now you abuse me for making you suffer...
You don't deny it? Don't make that pretty gesture of denial; it is needless... The day will come, I tell you, when you will thank me for having taught you how to show of your charms to such perfect advantage."
The poor girl was certainly unable to make any interruption. Her arms felt as heavy as lead and she had not the least desire to make the smallest deprecating gesture. She had, it is true, made a faint effort to join her hands in an attitude of entreaty, but the slight movement bad proved beyond her exhausted strengh. The chattering of the mistress made her giddy. Every sound echoed in her brain like blows on an anvil.
Lady Flayskin appeared resolved to increase her pupil's discomfort yet farther, for her gestures increased an multiplied in a manner as useless as disagreeable, while, contrary to her wont, she raised her voice until she almost seemed to shout.
"I suppose," she continued, "that I must have a weakness for you, to be spoiling you to such an extent. Here am I passing you your dress after having laced up your corset? Upon my word I am acting like your lady's maid. It is past belief. Tell that to the other pupils! But I flatly forbid you to do any suchthing. Will you tell them?"
Them girl's lips stirred but no sound did they make. Her mouth felt dry and burning, as did her throat also, for all saliva seemed to have ceased to flow.
Her ladyship insisted. Approaching her mouth to her pupil's ear, she shouted with all her strength:
"Will you kindly do me the honour to reply?"
Virginia trembled as though a thunder bolt had burst in the room. With a grimacing expression of suffering, she forced her lips to utter a sound, and Lady Flayskin received the almost inaudible reply:
She made no reply. Her ladyship cried:
"This is insupportable! You now fail in respect to me, who thought your silly pride had been driven out of you. You speak to me as to a lady's maid. I have helped you to dress, it is true, but that is no reason for thinking me the servant of your whims. Servile work is not my work. If I have been disposed to consent to do it, it is because it pleased me. My motive is sufficient and is no extenuation of your bad manners. Reply properly. Or, if not... "
She feigned passionate anger, ground her teeth and shook her fist in the face of the suffering girl, who faintly murmured:
"Yes, my lady."
"Very good! Your dress is now fastened up. Come and look at yourself in the glass. There!"
She led her along, half pushing her, for in her present condition Virginia was incapable of guiding her steps. She was like a walking statue, her movements being stiff, mechanical, lifeless. The wretched girl was losing all appearance of health and naturalness because she could not find what the rest of humanity finds without searching: breath. And when breath cannot be found, death is not slow in making its appearance.
Virginia was led in front the tall glass at the end of the room which reflected the full length of her frame, and looking therein she saw something white and misty which was herself. She gazed dully at the muslin dress adorned with the azure-blue sash in accord ance with the custom of the school.
The head-mistress insisted upon her admiring herself with enthusiasm:
"Ah! What a slender waist! You outdo
my three "Wasps" of whom I am so proud and
who arouse admiration wherever I take them.
Upon my word, you are better than they! I had said I would make a marvel of you. But how spiritless you are! You are as indifferent as though the matter concerned another person, as though the glass did not reflect your face, your tempting bust, your rounded hips, but merely the charms of another. Come, a little more coquetry! You had too much and now you have not sufficient. It is past belief. A young girt so beautiful as you, unable to raise a smile before her looking-glass!"
But enthusiasm was the last matter of which Virginia felt herself capable. It was the breath of life, for which she feebly sought. It was the burning in her stomach that she would fain have calmed, striving vainly with her ribs to resist the cruel pressure of the unyielding stays. Nothing seemed to her of any moment in comparison with the necessity of escaping from the prison in which her body was held captive, and to have gained such freedom she would willingly have given her beauty of which her mistress was so desirous she should be proud. She had, in truth, been proud of her beauty, but now it seemed to her a burden, responsible for the awful garment she was doomed to wear.
Her ladyship brought back Virginia's thoughts to the full horror of the moment by the announcement of a new torture.
"You do well to refuse to admire your costume, for you have not your gloves. I am becoming as stupid as you. It is true that it is not necessary that I should think of everything. You ought yourself to have thought of them. But here they are. Put them on! Ah! clumsy girl, why do you drop them?"
It was plain that it would have been ridiculous to think Miss Malville capable herself of picking up the gloves which had slipped from her grasp. It was, however, not so evident whether the gloves had been dropped by simple clumsiness on the part of the girl, or whether the mistress, cruel and unnatural to a degree, had not desired that they should fall in order that the sufferings of her unfortunate victim might be increased to her most extreme limit.
She stood a moment in front of the girl and stared into her eyes until she seemed to transfix her pupil with terror.
The latter attempted to go down on her knees, in the hope that without bending her chest, an absolutely impossible action, she might be able to feel about blindly on the ground with her hands to find and pick up the gloves.
Possibly Lady Flayskin rightly estimated the peril of such an attempt and thought matters had been pushed far enough, for she picked up the gloves herself, remarking:
"I am going to put them on you myself, though not of course because you are incapable, as you desire to appear, of doing so yourself unaided, for that I do not think to be the case. This, however, must be the last caprice I can humour, as I warn you."
She raised the hands of the girl and found them as cold and limp as if they had been a doll's. Angrily she exclamed:
"Stiffen your fingers!"
It seemed as though she had some kind of hypnotic influence over the girl, for her fingers stiffened immediately and the gloves could be put on, tight though they were. The mistress buttoned them dexterously and drew them up in a skilful manner until the arms of their wearer were painfully encased, up to and beyond the elbow, in their creaseless black kid coverings.
It was only a discomfort the more.
Virginia had now no portion of her body at ease. The excessively high heels and tight boots gave her cramping pains in her calves and thighs. Her ribs threatened to crack beneath the corset and now her hands were forced into gloves far too small fort hem. The easy grace of her movements of which she had formerly been so proud, as befitted an English girl of the aristocratic class devoted to out-door sports, where now was that grace?
Lost for long days to come!
So confused had become her mind that this thought come to her but dimly.
What occupied her troubled brain was the feeling of giddiness, the racking persistent headache which seemed to fasten talons of steel into her tortured scalp. Lady Flayskin now thought fit to thrust the girl before her into the class-room, that her schoolfellows might see her new costume.