Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Story: Her Most Remarkable Performance. Chapter 7.

By Camille Langtry

Another week passed and Mr. Bermingdale, as promised, finally brought to Georgina a list of high-society parties, that were planned in coming days. Until her mother’s death the Ashburtons would have featured prominently among the London season’s most prominent hosts, but not anymore. Needless to say, all the other glittering aristocratic names were still there, trying to out-do one another with their fancy balls, expensive dinners, and fashionable receptions.  

It was surprising to Georgina how uninterested she has become in attending any of those parties. Instead, she concentrated on the task at hand: finding the right soiree, where Evelyn could perform to showcase her singing talent. She just couldn’t disappoint her “mistress”, even as she found Evelyn’s strict-and-disgruntled act incredibly stimulating and almost sensual and was almost tempted to “fail her” so that she could be berated yet again.

Georgina looked at the list in front of her. The D’Asgognes were hosting something this coming Sunday, but Lady Constance was probably the last person in all of London’s high society that Georgina wanted to approach with her little request. Her haughty, imperious manners were well-known. Furthermore, her bitter rivalry with the late Lady Olivia made asking Lady Constance for help impossible for Georgina.

Elizabeth, Duchess of Leicester, was back from Paris after nearly two years. Her Grace was always such a bore and hardly a lover of music, as far as Georgina could recall. It would definitely be a waste of time for Evelyn, the young heiress thought to herself.

Countess Isabella von Elkerman was also back in London and holding a ball. This may be interesting. They were close friends with Georgina’s mother and she’d undoubtedly be happy to help Liebchen Olivia’s only daughter.

Georgina’s eyes scrolled down the list when she finally saw exactly what she was looking for. Marchioness Florence Highcastle. The patroness of the arts, she had spent exuberant amounts on supporting opera and other productions at The Savoy, The Gaiety and The Lyceum. The Great Henry Irving himself was her dear friend and Ellen Terry was known to attend Lady Florence’s many theater-themed parties. For Evelyn, there was no better chance to meet the people that could make her the new star of the London stage.

Georgina wrote a brief note to Lady Florence. She couldn’t say no to the heiress of the Ashburton fortune and indeed she did not: Miss Highcastle quickly wrote back to say she’d be pleased to meet the aspiring singer and invited her to the party the coming Friday.  Georgina was also invited, of course, but she politely turned down the offer.  At the same time, she was ecstatic that she could finally report back the good news to her pretend mistress!


When Evelyn arrived for their next lady-and-maid session, it took her all of her acting ability to hide the excitement. She did not want to give Lady Georgina - Susan, as she called her all the time now - the satisfaction of seeing she really depended on her. Instead, she maintained her usual imperious equanimity befitting a noble lady of means, even as deep inside she was jumping like a little girl. Florence Highcastle! That was the chance she’d been waiting for!

“Very well, Susan. Send a note to her Ladyship saying I would be attending,’’ she told her maid. “I would need to think about my repertoire.”

“Yes, Ma’am,’’ replied Georgina, who was dressed in her usual black-and-white uniform, and curtseyed. “Will there be anything else, Ma’am?”

It took Evelyn a minute to decide what they should do today. It was becoming increasingly difficult for her to come up with new things the two of them could engage in. They’ve already played out all the scenarios that the young heiress initially suggested, some of them two or three times. It was hard for the actress to see how they can carry on much longer without both of them getting bored to death from repeating the same things over and over again. Thankfully, today’s news about the upcoming high society party gave her an idea for something refreshingly useful to do.

“Susan, I want you to go to my dressing room and select a few evening gowns that I may wear to the party. I am thinking of the pale blue one with woven lilies on the decolletage. Or maybe the lilac one, it fits we really well. No, wait. Burgundy will work better with my hair. Oh, I can’t decide. Just go and put a few ones on the bed, I will make my selection later,’’ she instructed Susan and dismissed her with a magisterial wave of the hand.


Georgina curtsied and rushed upstairs to do as her mistress instructed. Her mother left behind an enormous selection of gowns and other lady’s things - many of them unworn or almost unworn as Lady Olivia had an expensive habit of ordering excessively from her favourite Paris dressmakers. Her impressive trousseau befitting a queen consisted of endless peignoirs and negligees, dressing gowns, morning dresses, tea gowns, promenade dresses, visiting gowns, reception gowns, evening and ball gowns, travel ensembles, riding habits and hunting tweed outfits for country visits. The last batch she ordered from Worth and Doucet arrived a week after her untimely departure in large coffin-size trunks marked with O.A., her initials, and had remained unopened ever since.


She opened an oversized lacquer wardrobe and pulled out several gowns that could work for the great occasion. As a lady, Georgina always found the process of constant dressing and undressing - often as much as three or even four times a day - excessive and tiresome. Dressing for breakfast. Dressing to go for a walk. Dressing for tea. Dressing for dinner. Even as a young girl, Georgina could not remember a single day when she’d wear the same outfit from the morning to the night - her mother saw to it that her daughter was always dressed in a recherché manner. There were just too much dressing involved if you were a noble lady of means with too much time on your delicate hands! However, as a maid Georgina had discovered how much she enjoyed being on the other end of it, making sure that her mistress looked her best at all times.

Georgina laid out several gowns on the bed for Evelyn to select from. Over the course of their sessions with Evelyn, much to her chagrin, she’d realised that the one thing she particularly liked was dressing and undressing her lady. Getting reprimanded - often unfairly - by her strict mistress was still something that sent an erotic shiver up and down her spine. However, the intimate act of getting her mistress in and out of her beautiful gowns was something that Georgina found irresistible.


The rustling of a dress caused her to turn. It was Evelyn. She walked over to the bed slowly, her silk underskirts making the prominent frou-frou sound - the unmistakable sound heralding the arrival of a well-dressed lady. Georgina curtsied, waiting in the corner for her mistress to give her additional orders.
Evelyn looked at the dresses laid out on the bed and lifted one of them - an elaborate bustle gown made from delicate pale blue silk covered by stalks of grain and large chrysanthemum blossoms.

“Let me try this one on, Susan,’’ she commanded and turned her back to Georgina, waiting for her maid to undo the hooks on the back and free her from her light brown visiting dress. The young heiress rushed to help her mistress undress and then helped her into a low-cut ornamented frock with very narrow short sleeves that showed off her shoulders and rounded arms and clung tightly to her slender waist.


Like almost every outfit they’ve tried over the past few weeks, the gown looked amazing on Evelyn, even as Georgina had to tie her stays another half-inch for a better fit. It was remarkable how much her built and height resembled the late Lady Olivia. Georgina could not help but think that this was rather fitting as Evelyn was, to a degree, a new authority figure for her, similar to her mother - someone she had to listen to with no objections.

Evelyn made several steps across the boudoir and stopped in front of the large mirror, admiring her lovely reflection. She swung her full skirt, covered by the asymmetric flower design, and turned to the side, clearly pleased with what she saw. Indeed, she was a lovely sight. Like the original owner of the pale blue gown, she was the type of a woman to take her beauty for granted, completely aware of the fact that she had to do very little to turn heads from most men and women that came her way. Especially when she was dressed like an honest-to-God aristocratic lady ready to go to a ball.

The young actress turned around again and then something caught her attention. She lifted the skirt of her gown just a bit and inspected it, running her hand along the exceptionally thin, finely detailed material.

“What is this, Susan? Is this a hole right here?! And what is this brown spot on this side?” Evelyn said, anger rising in her voice. “Did you look at this gown before offering it to me?”

Georgina came closer and got on her knees in front of her mistress to look at where Evelyn was pointing. Indeed, between the folds of the voluminous skirt, there was a very visible hole, almost two inches in diameter. And several of the artificial flowers on the side of the train looked discolored and were in need of serious washing.

“Oh Lor’, Miss, I ain’t see’d that,’’ she said, remembering her exaggerated working-class accent. Even after three lessons with Mr. Noble it still was not natural for her and she had to remind herself to butcher her proper English whenever she addressed her Mistress. Thankfully, with Sarah around, there was always a living and breathing exemplar of vulgar speaking to pick new phrases and words from.

Following Mr. Noble’s advice, she took it upon herself to imitate Sarah’s speech as much as she could, often writing down her odd, ungrammatical phrases to memorize them. And the more she practiced, the more expressions like “I came for to clean the bedroom” or “I done it yesterday” sounded almost natural to her.
As someone who’d hardly been formally schooled, Sarah liked to use fancy upper-class-sounding words she heard somewhere but did not fully understand the meaning of. One such word was picturesque, which she probably encountered in one of the illustrated magazines she liked to flip through in her spare time. She took a liking to it and for a few weeks everything was picturesque to her - a picturesque morning, a picturesque mood, a picturesque colour, a picturesque hat and even a picturesque dog. Georgina deliberately picked it up from her, thinking it was yet another unmistakable sign of a vulgar working-class girl that she aspired to imitate.


As Mr. Noble reminded Lady Georgina, a lower class person can always be distinguished at first glance by her impropriety and inappropriate boldness, these true marks of bad manners.  There was also this agitation about the florid working people that marked them from the self-possession of the upper classes. After all, there was a reason for the  distinctive difference in gait and grace between them: while the latter passed their time at dancing classes, the former spent their days bending and kneeling to clean steps or to work in the field.

“How can you be so stupid, Susan? As a lady’s maid this is your duty to make sure all my gowns and undergarments are impeccable at all times. Yet, you somehow expect me to wear this rag to a party! What were you thinking?” she charged, looking gown on Georgina, who was still on her knees, holding the spoiled dress’s hem.

“I is sorry, Miss. My Goodness me, I thought them dresses was so picturesque, I did! I will find more beautifuller for you now, Miss,’’ Georgina continued, pretty pleased with herself that her uneducated English came more naturally this time around. She also felt excitement slowly taking over her as Evelyn, her strict mistress, was dressing her down. It was precisely moments like this that she found incredibly exciting during her game.

Evelyn crossly drew back the hem of her evening gown from her humbled kneeled maid and made a step back. She grabbed another gown from the bed -  a burgundy velvet and gray satin creation embroidered with rows of pearls and steel beads - and held it against her body.

“This won’t do. It is much too splendid for the occasion,’’ she uttered disappointedly and threw the garment back into the pile on the bed. She dispassionately fingered through the rest of the gowns that Georgina had set aside, made a face and added in a dry voice: “You don’t have a sense of style, Susan.  This is inexcusable for a lady’s maid. You can’t seriously expect me to wear any of them. Don’t tell me this is all we have. I can’t possibly put them on to the party.”

The haughty mistress walked around the room and stopped next to the trunks, looking at the French stamps on their brown leather sides.

“What is this doing in my room, Susan?” she asked her maid, sounding even more irritated.

“Them are deliv’ries from Paris, Miss,’’ Georgina responded and curtsied.

“Oh yes, but of course!” Evelyn replied and crossed her hands. “How could I forget I ordered them? What are you waiting for? Open them for me!”


Amazed by Evelyn’s quick wit, how wholly she’d assumed her role, Georgina opened the trunks and stepped aside, allowing her Mistress to inspect their contents. The actress began removing items big and small, all of them carefully wrapped in semi-transparent tissue paper. There were ornamental rustling petticoats with ribbons at the hem,  fine linen chemises, delicate silk stockings in different colours and satin-covered corsets to give their beautiful owner a fashionably-laced silhouette dictated by Parisian modistes.  

Lastly, there were several gowns and ensembles for various occasions, all made off measurements provided by Lady Olivia during one of her many visits to the Rue de la Paix. Like everything else in the departed lady’s wardrobe, the unworn items were all made from finest materials and with the greatest attention to detail - from elegant silver or pearl buttons to every bit of lace and every little pleat and ruff. Indeed, this was something exquisite and beyond the means of anyone but the very richest and well-placed.


One of the dresses caught Evelyn’s attention - it was made from light blue and white floral silk moiré and had a scooped neckline with lace trimming and three-quarter sleeves ending with cuffs. A large bustle with an oversized faille bow extended to become a train. The label in block lettering woven into petersham proudly proclaimed to someone who may had still had doubts about the makers of this one-of-a-kind garment: “Worth/Paris.” She held the gown close to her and turned to the waiting maid, who was standing in the corner with her hands over the white apron: “This one. Let’s see how it fits.”


Georgina proceeded to undress her Mistress once again and held the bodice of the new gown open for Evelyn to dive into the overflowing mass of lace and tulle and, after another re-adjustment of the corset, began doing up the innumerable hooks and buttons at the back. With Evelyn finally locked inside the latest creation of Mr. Worth, Georgina stood back to admire the beautiful lady in front of her.

“Don’t just stand there, Susan. What are you there for? Bring me my fan,’’ Evelyn commanded and Georgina handed her a feathered fan, one of many in Lady Olivia’s collection.

“I like it. I really do,” Evelyn finally gave her verdict after inspecting her reflection in the mirror for almost two minutes. She opened her fan and with rapid strokes fanned her pretty face. “It is not as overdone as some of the other dresses and it is surprisingly light and comfortable too. I don’t want to be wearing yards of heavy cloth on me, especially when performing.




18 comments:

  1. An Appreciative ReaderFebruary 21, 2017 at 10:33 AM

    Fabulous chapter; it's so good to have you back! I love the descriptions of the gorgeous and ornate clothes, your dictionary of Victorian dressing must be well worn... The materials and details are so meticulously recorded, we really feel we are there dressing Evelyn too. And then in comes Susan with her common speech, tremendous! And the way you can see both women are naturally drifting towards their new roles... I think you can guess that I enjoyed this chapter ;). Looking forward to more! Fun reading this next to Malangton Hall, a contrast between someone who traps herself and someone taken down by the devious wiles of others, so many thanks to you Camille as both writer and publisher.

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    1. Thank you so much! There is a lot more dressing (and shopping) going forward!

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  2. I Have loved this story from the begining
    Thanks.
    Jackie J

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  3. Please continue your wonderful story!

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  4. This is beginning to look even more interesting. Will Georgina be attending as herself or as Susan and one of the staff?

    I'm a fan of slow transformations and a chapter describing how Georgina is beginning to learn her new speech and behaviour would be good. A few mistakes as Georgina inadvertently slips into her other role might surprise those (staff and 'equals') not in know.

    Thanks

    Robi

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    1. I don't think Susan is ready to face the world as maid yet, but we'll see!

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  5. Was wondering when this would return.

    As one familiar with the rules of who is Lady [Title],who is Lady [Firstname],who is Lady [Lastname],and who is "Miss" whatever (hint:one can only ever be properly one of these things at a time),it does annoy me to see them flubbed,though...

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    1. Sorry I did not pay this as much attention as I should have. I will try to be more attentive. Would you be willing to point to specific mistakes that need correcting? You can do it here or drop me a line to camille.langtry@gmail.com. Thanks!

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    2. I'll send you a longer explanation by email but in a nutshell,Lady [Title] is either a peeress in her own right(rare,most titles pass only to men) or the wife of a peer(substantive or courtesy);
      Lady [Firstname] is the daughter of an earl,marquess,or duke not married to a man of higher rank (Lady [HUSBAND's First Name]... is the wife,of lower rank,of a younger son of a marquess or duke),and Lady [Lastname] is the wife of a knight (in the lower degrees of peerage the last name and the time are often the same).Daughters of viscounts and barons are Honourable Miss Lastname and those of baronets,knights,or the untitled as Miss Lastname no matter how wealthy.

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    3. Did you get the email?

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    4. I did and just sent you a message, thank you so much for all your help.

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    5. Had a mail server issue today,your response hasn't shown up.So exactly what is Georgina's family title situation?

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  6. Thank you for continuing this story.

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  7. Might I suggest that you create a "Label" unique to this story,so people can sort out its installments from the rest of the blog?

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    1. Yes, the self-explanatory HMRP label has been created, thanks for the suggestion. The whole story is nearly ready for publication so watch this space!

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