It was as the head-mistress had predicted. The slender waist of Miss Malville made a sensation. The glory of the "Three Wasps " was somewhat dimmed.
On Sunday, at church, the men were transfixed with admiration as they looked at the figures of the schoolgirls, while the women went pale with envy. As for us boys, we too shared in these attentions, as owing to our tight-laced corsets, we were likewise taken for girls. Our modest becoming air, our short little steps, the way we had of keeping our eyes lowered, all these and other outward signs aided the deception.
For the present no one had eyes except for Miss Malville, who, in her person, was the embodiment of all the graces due to the inexorable discipline of our establishment -- the stays worn night and day, the high boots with their exaggerated heels, the gloves of glazed kid reaching above the elbow.
Lady Flayskin had likewise made her don the "combination," that garment which was bodice and drawers in one, and made of black glazed kid fitting exceedingly tight.
She had been spared the shoulder straps nor had she ever worn the leather collar.
It is true that Virginia carried herself so perfectly upright that these objects would, in her case, have proved absolutely superfluous.
Lady Flayskin was practical before everything. If the carriage of the body was correct, why use artificial aids?
Meanwhile an event of the highest interest took place. It had long been expected and no one was taken by surprise.
One day, the head-mistress announced, in a manner even more ceremonious than that to which we were accustomed, that there would be no school the following day. We were all, boys and girls alike, invited to the wedding of worthy Mr. Gostock with pretty Stella.
The austere, hypocritical old fellow had long meditated this action and his dissimulation had deceived nobody, so true is it that passion always betrays itself. We had one and all expected either a marriage or an elopement and the only thing which surprised us was that one or other of these contingencies had not occured long ago.
Mr. Gostock was almost an old man and he was marrying a girl who had scarcely had time to greet her sixteenth summer.
In our opinion, he was marrying her less for her grace and prettiness then because she would be so good to whip.
There was reason to believe that the pious American revelled in the pastime of flagellation. He was passionately fond of seeing children whipped and was always on the spot at the precise moment when Stella was about to apply the birch to a rebellious posterior. So soon as the "trussing" of the victim began, he quickly made his way to the best place. Then with eyes which ordinarily seemed dead, mere colourless marble devoid of all expression; and now aflame with a lugubrious light, he literally drank in the scene of suffering. He intoxicated himself with the spectacle, uttering little involuntary yelps of pleasure. There was something repulsive in this greedy satisfaction, and we were terrified and disgusted, though we should have found it difficult to say why, by the sight of him at these moments.
With the natural gaiety of childhood we found that there was more to laugh at than to fear in Mr. Gostock. With great irreverence we would mock his mannerisms and his words. We laughed at his senile passions; his expression of face; and his clothes. Nothing about him escaped our raillery.
His animation always increased as the tears of the victim flowed faster; when the sufferings. became more intense and the cries more piercing.
When the punishment was ended, it was Mr. Gostock's wont to congratulate Stella in pompous language wich was really ridiculous. He always thought it necessary to allude to the decency and high morality of the proceeding. His face would be as red as a tomato and his trembling hands would shift about here, there, and everywhere. He usually found it necessary to toy affectionately with Stella's chin or to else pat her white arms.
There was nothing astonishing, therefore, in his marrying her.
The ceremony was a notable one. We learnt through the gossip of the servants the real reasons of the marriage, together with certain edifying details regarding the married life of this virtuous man.
He was very rich. It was this fact which decided exceedingly good-looking Stella to accept him as husband and to humour his whims. It may be added that the taste for whipping was shared by both.
The coquetry of this child succeeding in securing a man so ripe in years and so free, on account of his wealth, to choose a partner from any country or station in life which took his fancy, would seem very strange, if due account is not taken of a certain prime factor -- astute Lady Flayskin.
The head-mistress had planned to join in indissoluble union these two being so admirably suited for one another. She succeeded without difficulty. Stella understood perfectly her ladyship's directions as to what should and what should not be done in her courting of the American.
Never for a moment had she deviated from the rules laid down for her guidance by Lady Flayskin.
She had become skilled, while keeping her air of childish innocence, in whetting the appetites of Mr. Gostock. The cruelty and science of her chastisements made her irresistible in the eyes of her elderly admirer, and she knew further how to stimulate his feelings by her gestures when her punishments were terminated. She would notice by signs he could never dissimulate that his passions were awakened and she would then as though inadvertently, lay a caressing hand upon the rounded spheres in front of her. At such moments, Mr. Gostock had difficulty in containing himself.
We children had discovered many things during nights spent together in the dormitory. We had even reached the stage of rendering one another certain small services in the presence of the under-mistresses and the directress herself, for we had found that such services were a very great relief to the feelings after a painful flogging. We knew the best medicine for poor smarting, itching thighs and the whip always had upon us a certain nervous effect. It was due to this knowledge that we perfectly understood that the actions and gestures of Stella for all her attractive air of a innocence, were only a piquant preface. We were able to follow all the stages of Stella's treatment without difficulty, the American's looks and movements betraying all to our childish but discerning eyes.
This Puritan was a widower.
By his first marriage he had had, and still had a troop of children, the eldest of whom was twelve and the youngest five. He had left them in America in the charge of a woman -- a saint as he was wont to say in whom he could repose entire confidence.
Ah! his confidence was well placed! She was in effect a holy woman, after the heart of the respectable Yankee. By her vicious practices, the pious dame had taught bad habits to the three boys. Then, under the pretence of punishing them, she had obliged them to behave in the presence of their father in the manner they behaved when alone. Naturally such sťances ended in terrible collective floggings.
During the lifetime of his first wife, Mr. Gostock had had carnal intercourse with this holy woman. She had grown old and Mr. Gostock saw Stella at work and had be come enamoured of the girl. He counted upon her to punish his boys and see to the education of his daughters.
He was not disappointed in his hopes.
As I have already frequently had occasion to remark, everything became known that transpired in the mysterious establishment of Lady Flayskin. Tongues were not idle. Voices were not raised high, but they talked none the less for all that. Our sharp ears surprised every happening. The girlish education and costume seemed to arouse in us boys a feminine appetite for scandal and gossip.
If means of information as to what was happening about us were otherwise lacking we found in the servants' gossip all we sought. It was for the most part perfectly reliable, for the servants; like other members of the humbler classes, did not believe that any embellishments proceeding from their own simple brains could make truth more wonderful or interesting.
They would tell what they knew, in the course of conversation, to the elder pupils who naturally found nothing better to do than to repeat what they had learnt to the younger children.
The stories would go the round of the school and, contrary to gossip in a bigger world, did not vary nor grow as it passed from mouth to mouth.
In this way we were kept fully informed of the doings of the little world about us.
Thus, too, we learnt what happened in Mr. Gostock's new home.
The day after his wedding, the American decided that he could not occupy himself better than in beating his children. The scene was the dining-room at the hour of dinner. He found that all of them were in fault and to each addressed a reproof, although not one of the poor children was to blame. Since the death of their mother, they had been in the habit of payingtrembling attention to their good conduct. Deprived for long of all affection or tenderness, very unhappy in the charge of the woman to whom their father had entrusted them, they hoped to find in their stepmother something of that love and maternal devotion they so sadly missed.
Children readily believe appearances and believe in the goodness of those they find young and beautiful to look at. For children, fine appearances are a rich source of deception, though it is true some carry their delusions on this score with them through their riper years.
The poor children, fork in hand, now listened to the slow measured tones of their austere-visaged father who told them many things they found disagreeable to hear, to gether with a plentiful sprinkling of such word as decency and morality!
Malicious Stella had immediately under stood to what such observations, addressed by her husband to his children by first wife, were intended to lead.
As she spoke, the children were charmed by her pure crystal tones, and feeling reassured, they turned their attention anew to their plates.
Alas! they were greatly in error.
What pretty Stella proposed to her virtuous husband was simply to flog, there and then, the bare bottoms of all these brats.
"They really merit a flogging on account their behaviour at table," she said. "It is plain that they have been brought up deplorably and if the whip is not immediately applied we shall have a great deal of trouble with them in future. We shall no be able to have our meals in peace with the children at the table. We shall have to be continually employing cross words. In my opinion the children of so respected a father should have good principles instilled into them, and the sooner the better, in order that as they grow up, they may be respected in their turn. If you have no objection, we will begin immediately?"
The wretched old fellow felt his cup of joy running over as he saw his wishes so perfectly understood. He felt that this was indeed a fit realisation of the dream his heart had nursed so long. Kissing the hands of his sweet young wife, he told her that she was mistress in her own house and begged her to do as she thought for the best.
Thereupon, doubtless with the object of heightening her husband's amorous desires and giving him further joy, vicious Stella fell into his arms as though transported with gratitude and rewarded him with a long, affectionate kiss.
Then she went to the collection of birch rods in a corner of the room, and chose from among them those wich appeared most suitable. Stella possessed to an admirable degree a sense of proportion. Accordingly, for the elder children she chose thick and heavy rods, while for the smaller her choice was made from among the slender and tapering bunches of birch.
All therefore were whipped, beginning at the eldest and concluding with the youngest, tears and protestations making not the smallest difference in their sufferings. Each child after being whipped, had to ask papa's pardon and promise to be good in future. The penitent had to go upon his, or her knees with face turned to the wall. In this position, the little girls had to hold up, with both hands, their chemise and petticoats, while the little boys whose knickerbockers were about their ankles had to similarly raise their shirt-tails. In this position they had to remain until the end of the meal. Their choking sobs and stifled wails of suffering agreeably supplied the place of skilled musicians, in the opinion of virtuous Mr. Gostock. From time to time he cast his eyes along the row of bruised, scarred sterns, this exhibition of the flesh of his flesh so pitilessly beaten. His face would then light up with a smile of content while he kissed the fair hands of his adorable young bride.
This scene, alternated with others -- for lovely Stella's imagination matched her intelligence -- was often re-enacted.
For the rest, Mr. Gostock had only to let fall a word to find it immediately under stood by his wife, who deferred to his every passing whim to the despair of the hindquarters of the puny members of his household.
Not only had Mr. Gostock made arrangements in his will whereby everything which by law had not to revert to his children should fall to his wife, but he had further (so skilled was he in legal chicanery) managed to despoil his lawful heirs of nearly all their legal inheritance in favour of this second wife so greatly and unfairly favoured.
In exchange, Stella gave him all the happiness one can hope for on this earth when united to a lawful wife and awaiting a better world -- that paradise where doubtless, for the joy of virtuous Americans, the angels whip little children.
But I have anticipated. It is difficult to be as orderly in one's narrative as in one's ideas, more especially in the case of a narrative opening out so many attractive bypaths as the present.
I return therefore, after this disgression, to the marriage rejoicings of Mr. Gostock. We were all, boys and girls alike, as I have said, invited, and we were in charge of the headmistress.
Early in the morning, we all, servants, pupils and governesses, took our places in two breaks, drawn, each of them, by four horses to the gay music of two energetic posthorn players. The populace of the villages rushed to their doors and gates to see us pass, attracted by the music and the horses. We were flattered by the remarks of the country wenches, women and their husbands, and by the cries of exclamation or admiration of the pleasure in the somewhat sour, unmistakably envious looks of the elder girls. We had no need to hold our heads as though we had been supplied with bearing-reins. We did not wear the cruel leather collar, but our stays kept our figures in excellent shape and very erect. It is hardly necessary to say that all corsets had been laced under the eye of the head-mistress and that her ladyship had paid particular attention to the operation.
The nine miles which separated us from Mr. Gostock's house at Faversham were covered in an hour and a quarter.
Of the actual ceremony I shall say nothing except that, as always, our waists did not fail to attract considerable attention. After the service, fine ladies fingered and felt the "Three Wasps" and asked them questions. The replies were dictated by what they knew to be their head-mistress's wishes, otherwise their questioners would have received some strange revelations. The young ladies, it is unnecessary to add, made their answers with perfect politeness and amiability.
Lady Flayskin's prediction was realised. The triumph of the "Three Wasps" was as nothing in comparison with that of Miss Virginia Malville.
Virginia had paid dearly for her glory. Interminable sleepless nights were only a part of the price she paid for the admiration and astonishment aroused by a waist whose like had never hitherto beenseen.
The head-mistress had spared no pains with this unique example of the power of corset discipline.
The corset! Dread word whose meaning the poor girl at length thoroughly understood! In the morning before she rose, Virginia was wont to receive three visitors, the head-mistress and those two strong-armed servants whose task it had been on the day of Virginia's first flogging to thrust her back into the class-room.
These visitors would find the girl relapsing into a short, fitful slumber after a night of weariness and wakefulness.
It was necessary that she should rise. Her night-corset was taken off in order that her day-corset might be put on. In the evening, when retiring to rest, the same persons paid their visit and performed the contrary operation.
At these visits, the head-mistress would measure, calculate and take careful note of the effects of the lacing on the ever diminishing size of the pupil's waists.
The night-corset was scarcely in any respect different from the day-corset. The former however, was of strong linen, instead of brocaded silk. Its busks and whalebones were less stiff and unyielding and close than in the case of the day-corset. But as regarded the sole particular which aroused any interest in the victim, the lacing, in both cases, remained the same.
The same set of rules sufficed for the other boys and girls of the school. In the case of the "Three Wasps," and Virginia Malville, there was a special and severe code. It was upon Virginia that these regulations of a severer order weighed heaviest. Both as regards her corset boots, and gloves, the head-mistress was pitiless. Ne relaxation of their discipline was ever permitted in Virginia's case.
To do justice to the truth, it must be acknowledged that the girl so attired had a very distinguished and attractive appearance.
Her tallness was accentuated by her high heels. Her sculptural leg and aristocratic foot were shown to their very best advantage in the arched boots reaching up the leg as far as the swelling calf. Her fine sloping shoulders and classic throat gained a perfection of outline (if such had previously been lacking) from the corset compressing the waist to a space easily encircled by the ten fingers. Her plump arm showed a glimpse of its pure white satin beauty just above the elbow where the long, black kid glove ended. Her hand was long and slender, that of a lady of noble birth skilled in the weaving of tapestry. One could imagine a hunting-glove worn to protect those tapering fingers from the fierce falcon poised upon my lady's wrist as her champing palfrey bore her to the chase.
Had Lord Malville seen his daughter at this moment, he would certainly have been astonished, proud, and happy.
Formerly the haughty girl had shown herself conscious of her charms. It was not so now. The difficulty of breathing was now the only thing of which she thought, for so soon as she became in the least degree used to any measurement in her stays, the headmistress gave directions that the lacing should be tighter.
Where would matters stop?
We all asked the question, though with more curiosity than pity. Each of us had sufficient personal discomfort to put up with without thinking too much about Miss Malville's troubles, however real they might be to that young lady.
The girl was forced to veil her feelings in a constant smile, for such was the head mistress's desire. She ordained that smile in tones there was no disputing. It was necessary to smile.
Virginia was of a deathly pallor whose ghastliness every now and then alternated with the deep red flush which would involuntarily rise to her cheeks to prove her sufferings. From time to time, she coughed and, when she thought she was unobserved, spat into her handkerchief, her expectoration betraying a thin streak of blood. Then she would smile perpetually, like one of those panting ballet-girls, also laced tightly in torturing corsets while going through their violent exercises. They always appear content, whether they are balancing on the tips of their toes, or submitting after their exertions to the cold draughts of the stage or greenroom. For the spectators they have always the same delighted smile.
Poor Virginia, whose rôle was so similar, had, at the expense of her own feelings and sufferings, to make a parade of joy for the benefit of Lady Flayskin and for the pleasure of the aristocratic circles with whom the directress's influence and popularity were of so pronounced a nature.
After dinner, a meal magnificently served, as befitted the occasion and the great wealth of the bridegroom, we were taken to a large room which was afterwards to be our dormitory for the night. Here we washed ourselves and made as perfect a toilet as was possible. Lady Flayskin's severe and vigilant eye was upon us, all the time, nor did that lady fail to improve the occasion by lecturing us in her usual half sermonizing, half reprimanding manner.
She told us that at this evening's party we should see represented all the families of the neighbourhood, the very cream of local society. All were anxious to pay a tribute of respect to Mr. Gostock on his wedding day, and a tribute of admiration to the pupils of Lady Flayskin's establishment who were known to be among the guests.
Lady Flayskin asked us, parenthetically, to admire the mysterious ways of Providence, who had, so to speak, taken Mr. Gostock by the hand and conducted him to the celebrated establishment of which we were members, with the sole aim of enabling him to appreciate the solid and excellent qualities of Miss Stella and of thus deciding him to make that young lady his lawful wife in the presence of God and men.
Here Lady Flayskin closed her parenthesis, but thought it fitting to commence another immediately. With lowered voice and finger laid upon her lips, looking about with an air of extraordinary discretion and circumspection, she informed us that Stella had been but a poor orphan, but that she, Lady Flayskin, had discovered her nascent sterling qualities when the girl was only ten years old.
This example of evangelistic charity next served her ladyship as text for a discourse upon the beauties of the discipline of the corset, gloves and high-heeled high boots, in short upon all the virtues of kid. She, however, omitted to allude to the virtues of the rod, prime cause of the good fortune of whipping Stella.
She further earnestly exhorted us to be polite and well-mannered, as befitted guests in such distinguished company. She added (and thought it fitting at this part of her discourse to assume an enigmatic smile) that if the corset of Stella had made so marvellous a conquest, there was room to hope that all the other young ladies, whose corsets were similarly tight-laced, would be similarly fortunate. As to be the boys, she said, marriage was not for the present to occupy their juvenile thoughts. They must, however, strive this evening, by their modest mien and becoming conduct, to show themselves worthy of the establishment whose privileges they were permitted to enjoy, and of the feminine costume in which that establishment's regulations, for their highest good and in their best interests, thought fit to clothe them.
After this curious speech, which had lasted a good half-hour by the clock, permission was given us to walk in the garden. We accordingly gratefully accepted this pleasure and I noticed in Mr. Gostock's fine park many a blackbird's and thrush's nest which I should doubtess have attempted to secure hod my garments been in the least degree those of a boy.
For that matter, neither boys nor girls thought of playing any of the games or indulging in any of the occupations natural to their age. Our costume forbade any such indulgence, and we only thought of such relaxations to regret our incapacity to take part therein. How could we run or jump with these narrow boots, these inconvenient high heels; how could the skipping-rope be used when this terrible corset was worn? After every leap, our intestines would infallibly have been reduced to mere pulp. How could we play at leapfrog while wearing these close-fitting drawers? Even the simple humble hoop was denied us, for it would have endangered the bursting of our gloves which we were stringently forbid den to take off.
We therefore walked in little groups down the shady paths, occupied in the sole amusement in which we were free to indulge, that of gossip and scandalmongering.
It was either the effect of the corset, that garment whose eulogy we were weary of hearing and whose moral and physical influence was so deleterious, it was either, I say, this, or the example we ever had before us in our bitter-tongued directress, but in any case -- be the cause what it might--we showed ourselves on this day thorough little hypocrites in the perfidy and the honeyed virulence of our remarks. In this respect, the boys were not a whit behind the girls. Each of us was skilled alike in stabbing with the tongue; each of us, upon this occasion, showed what talons could be concealed beneath a velvet paw; what fangs behind the sweetness of a smile.
It was the corset which added years to our young shoulders, and turned little boys into elderly roués or repulsive caricatures of the opposite sex.
In the case of both girls and boys, the chief preoccupation was this accursed corset. We were proud of our slender waists. We could not find terms sufficiently mocking or contemptuous to describe women unconnected with our establishment. What sacks they were! How heavy! How thick! We found the prettiest of girls to be common-looking, graceless and shapeless. It did not even occur to us, so taken up were we with our own elegance, as we thought it to be, that others would have been precisely as we, had they too passed through the skilled hands of Lady Flayskin, the champion of corset discipline.
Thus came about the natural but disastrous result that we grew to love the chains which bound us.
For the girls there remained some hope. But the boys!
In our case, it was ruin absolute and final; that canker which gnaws into all succeeding years. All desire to wrestle for and gain our meed of honour in the battle of life was stifled for ever in these early days. We were left feeble and disarmed, unfit to struggle or even compete with strong and resolute men, nerveless, bloodless warriors in the merciless clash and clang of existence where the strong man wins and the weat man goes to the wall.
A deep-noted gong signalled to us to make our way to the drawing-room. We were soon joined there by the other guests.
We found ourselves, as our head-mistress had told us would be the case, in the society of eminently chic persons. There were old gentlemen of Mr. Gostock's respectable antiquity, but, curious to relate, not a single middle-aged man. There were young girls whose corsets and gloves resembled our own in tightness, and beautifully-dressed ladies. When however, I drew nearer to one of the girls I found that she belonged to my own sex.
What could that mean?
I felt extremely curious and was on the point of making a commonplace remark to the young person with the object of beginning an interesting dialogue when I jumped nearly out of my skin. The voice of the head-mistress sounded in my ears:
"Alice! Come here!"
I had been watched! Trembling, I obeyed.
"Sit down there, and do not move a muscle. It is not your place to begin a conversation."
But I was used to Lady Flayskin's ingenious discoveries of punishable offences and used also to failing to understand the justice of the penance prescribed.
I was therefore resigned to the necessity of seating myself with a good grace on the edge of the chair indicated, for with our abominable stays it was impossible to think of leaning back, and had we attempted such a feat we should never have been able to raise ourselves again. I assumed as modest and penitent a mien as I was able and consoled myself with the thought that after all we were guests and no doubt I had inadvertently transgressed some mysterious rule of etiquette. My only fear was lest the head-mistress should revert to the matter on our return to school and make a mountain out of it. She was not the person to forget any matter wether little or big.
Any illusions I might have cherished in this connection were doomed to be swiftly dissipated.
Refreshments were brought in. Champagne frothed and was poured into glasses and then down throats, after the manner of champagne. The animation was at its highest, when Lady Flayskin, always, to employ a vulgarism, on the spot at important moments, proposed the first toast. She made a long, flowery speech regarding conjugal felicity, the excellent choice the universally esteemed Mr. Gostock had made, and the no less enduring than brilliant qualities of his bride. Then she annuonced:
"For you, dear child, I have reserved a pleasant surprise. I have had to reprimand some of my pupils, but their punishment has not yet taken place and I have counted upon you to apply it. Do not refuse me this kindness before we separate. I earnestly desire to see some impertinent hinder hemispheres whipped by you who know so well the science of the rod."
Pretty Stella's eyes were illumined by pleasurable anticipation and also, no doubt, by the effets of the champagne and other exciting delights of the day. Rising from her chair, she replied:
"Why, certainly! will do what you request with real delight: It is actually some days since I have whipped a boy or girl on -- ahem!--the partdestined by nature to receive chastisement. My arm is well rested and woe betide the posteriors destined to taste its vigour. I can promise them full measure. They will afterwards be able to boast of the excellent good-bye spanking they received on this memorable occasion. Please tell me who is to be the first and I will begin at once."
It was with stupefaction, as the reader may imagine, that I heard this speech and what with my fear and my stays, I could scarcely draw my breath. I was somewhat relieved, however, by the head mistress's rejoinder.
"Begin with Dora. I reprimanded her yesterday and have specially reserved the chastisement of her behind for you to-day."
Dora with a piercing shriek attempted to escape to the garden. Servants, however, had been posted at the door. They caught the child and brought her back.
Dora was a sweet, fair-haired, pink-cheeked girl, as appetising as cream, (alas, she was about to be converted into whipped cream!) with dimples everywhere. Her stays literally cut her in two. Her waist was of extraoadinary slenderness, which made the well-developed bust and large hips appear the more pro nounced.
Nimble-fingered Stella "trussed" her in the twinkling of an eye in spite of her tears, cries and efforts to resist. Her petticoats were pinned to her shoulders, revealing large hinder spheres black and shining, for naturally, Dora like the rest of us, wore the horrible, closefitting drawers of black kid.
The beating of the rod upon this vast rump was like the rolling of drums. As I ,listened to her agonised shrieks and prayers for pity, I knew but too well what was in store for my own latter end.
"And the next?" inquired bateful Stella, as she let Dora go. The victim had certainly received an over-dose.
"It is Alice's turn, if you will be so obliging," replied the head-mistress.
"If I will be so obliging? Why I shall be charmed! I have always found special delight in whipping the impertinent seat of that vicious little boy. His back parts tremble in such a curious, interesting manner."
Seeing "Alice," that is to say myself, dressed, of course, like a girl and pushed towards Stella by the servants, some of the old gentlemen were moved by the strongest curiosity. I heard them murmur:
It was certainly an unusual spectacle, this big boy of ten years old walking awkwardly forward, equally troubled by the curious looks, his stays, his high heels and the other feminine paraphernalia, as by his fear of the scene which was, he knew, to follow. They saw me throw myself upon my kness and with clasped hands implore Stella to intercede for me, and afterwards, since the entreaty fell upon deaf ears, implore her not to strike me too hard. They saw Stella laugh until tears run down her cheeks, then truss me. They saw the exact form and configuration of my hindquarters for, boy though I was, I wore the black kid drawers, tight and shining, which have been so frequently described.
They saw, too, the ridiculous trembling movements adored by Stella, for I had my reasons for shaking my poor curves beneath the torment. Ah, the wretch! Never did she whip with a more perfect mastery of her art. To say good-bye, she wrote an unforgettable "P. P. C." upon my martyred beam-end.
The old gentlemen saw that for me all feelings of shame were of no account, so great was my pain and terror.
All these things they could see. and hear and it appears that they both looked and listened with prodigious amusement and satisfaction. Possibly their senile lusts were stimulated by the scene? Ah, the monsters!
On being permitted to regain my chair, I seated myself astride across the seat, forgetful of my skirts and, resting my arms upon the chair's back, buried my face in my shame and misery, crying as though my heart would break.
This was a fresh opportunity for the mirth of the company who did not fail to take advantage of it.
I suddenly heard the voice of Lady Flayskin pronounce my name in tones sharper and more bitter than verjuice.
I quickly assumed a more feminine attitude, especially as I had had another reminder of my momentary forgetfulness, even more disagreeable than the voice of her ladyship. In leaning forward over the chair's back, I had broken one of my staybusk. A sharp end consequently stuck into my stomach, causing me horrible agony. I dared not make a movement now.
Conversation was resumed. The company appeared to be in excellent, even tumultuous spirits. The ingredients for making punch were brought in.
Mr. Gostock stepped forward in his usual solemn manner and undertook to superintend themixing. Night had fallen, but Stella declared that obscurity in the room would be vastly more amusing than artificial light. Naturally the wishes of the little chit were laws for her husband, and darkness accordingly reigned, broken by the flickering green and blue flames from the ignited rum, uncertain ghoulish dimness.
In this half-light, transpired scenes of an extraordinary nature. Mistresses and servants circulated swiftly among us pupils and in less time almost than it takes to relate, had stripped us naked, boys and girls alike, in spite of our resistance and cries. I said "naked," but I should explain that for the moment they did not remove that black, glazed kid combination; the skin-tight garment which revealed, rather than concealed our youthful forms; nor our stockings, or high-heeled boots.
We were pushed towards the table on which stood the flaming punchbowl and each of us was bidden to drink amid those infernal flames to the health of the bride.
How long drinking and singing continued, I hardly know. Nor do I know to what cause to attribute the strangely lascivious desires nor the mad excitement which transformed the girls into furies and the boys into satyrs.
Had the punch been drugged?
Had the moral American, highly respected Mr. Gostock, president of numerous societies for the promotion of public morality, mingled therein stimulating cantharides or some potent phosphoric acid? I know not. The fact remains that our movements became of the wildest and most unbridled order. The strangest fancies seized us in a grip there was no resisting and drew us, unwilling and yet willing, towards a seething vortex of obscenity that absorbed us, sucked us down, one and all.
No pen can write what passed in Stella's drawing-room on the evening of her weddingday. No writer would dare to paint in detail that unforgettable night of triumphant vice, that mad delirum which cast us into the arms of grizzled patriarchs, which gave us naked, yet unashamed, into the hands, sheathed in black glazed kid, of fair society ladies...