A Sissy Saga Ch. 13bySnurge©
When not on duty on a Sunday Margaret Pardoe sometimes found herself at a loose end, and that particular Sunday she'd used up what enthusiasm she had for her embroidery project in the morning and had to settle for a stroll in the garden after lunch.
Emma was on duty, but that didn't prevent Margaret from being watchful of the school rules or for taking remedial action of her own if they were infringed. It was the only way she could wile away time on a hot, dreary day without formal lessons.
Uncharacteristically Miss Hancock came out from the house a little later and decided to take everyone off on a nature ramble. The entire school was assembled in double-file and told to hold hands with their partner, then with Jennifer swishing a stick at the rear to intimidate stragglers the mini-skirted schoolgirl crocodile was led off across a cultivated paddock towards a nearby coppice.
Margaret wasn't about to join in with any of that, Miss Hancock's nature walks were too much like route marches for her taste. Desperate for some other distraction she latched onto matron who was off to catalogue the Fairyfield family archive, and who seemed glad of some company.
They went to the unused east-wing and entered a small, windowless room littered with boxes and crates all of which had been opened for investigation. They revealed a huge stash of household goods that had fallen from grace over a number of generations; broken tennis rackets, a glass cabinet of bird's eggs, boxes of cutlery, a walking stick with a brass pommel, piles of letters and photographs and half empty bottles of Parisian scent. At the side of the door lurked an ancient Russian samovar looking rather lopsided and in need of repair, while smaller pieces of bric-a-brac lay everywhere.
Matron led Margaret to where a pair of tall stools and a small table stood in the centre of things. "Miss Hancock is constantly asking me to make a list of the items stored here. There's oodles of stuff as you can see, and Sunday's are the only days I'm free to do it." she explained.
Margaret's nose twitched at the musty, stale smell of the room. "There's no rush is there?"
Matron arched a sardonic eyebrow. "I believe Miriam is desperate for money."
"Ha! That's nothing new. She's never got enough of that."
"She wants me to separate out anything of value that will raise cash at auction."
"Totting up her treasure is she? The woman's obsessed by money." observed Mrs Pardoe as she side-stepped a pair of vases with oriental motifs that stood on the floor by her feet - one of them she noticed was already cracked from top to base. "All these bloody knickknacks look like old junk to me."
Matron smiled patiently. "Most families have a attic to store away items that are out of style or beyond favour, and I suppose this room must have become an attic to the latter-day Fairyfield's. Many of the items in here are certainly junk and wouldn't fetch a button at a boot-market," She sat down and raised up a heavy Victorian silver teapot. "But there's plenty of stuff over a hundred years old that would do rather well at auction. There's some nice pieces of Meissen china and some silver, London and Bristol, fully hallmarked."
"Must be a job to know what's what." remarked Margaret.
"I enjoy art, good music, books; and I've always had a passion for antiques, that's why Miriam asked me to make the list." replied matron, "None of it as ever been properly catalogued before so no one knows what could turn up." She stroked the exquisite teapot affectionately. "I'd be quite happy if I found one or two more of these."
She gave Mrs Pardoe a sideways glance. "You really should broaden your own interests Margaret. Free-time is such a rare thing here during the term. You should get out and about when you have the chance."
"Get out and about?" snorted the other woman, "You must think I'm mad. Peasmarsh is no livelier than a graveyard on a Sunday."
Her manner and 'posh' diction always gave rise to ribald comment among the people in the village, while she in return had no appreciation for unsophisticated country folk and their rural ways. The way they doggedly seemed to relish living fifty years in the past irritated her. They all believed their village to be old and pretty when it was really decrepit and dull. They all lived in a mail-order catalogue and mirrored each other; the same clothes, same friends and same opinions. And sex? That was a dirty word that didn't even feature in the local graffiti.
She drew her stool closer to matron. "You're a fine one to talk, you never go anywhere yourself. What on earth made you settle here? You're not a secretary, you're a nurse - you should be working in a hospital. The nearest you get to nursing now is giving enemas to poncey sissies."
"Colonic irrigation is important to those who spend so much time admiring each others fundaments, but I do more than that. Miss Hancock relies on my medical knowledge to extend the cute appeal of her pupils, so my advice is constantly sought on matters of hormonal balance and diet."
"Everyone as the impression you once had something to do with breast-enhancement."
Matron smiled with a touch of pride. "I was a senior grade in my profession and I specialised in a number of things. I assisted in so many breast operations I could do them myself in the end."
"It's a shame to waste such skill. I'm getting old and frumpy, and I've started to sag a bit around the top. If you had the right stuff could you do something for me?"
"I could give you a choice of breast shape and I could even remodel your nipples if you wished. But, frumpy Margaret? That's ridiculous, you're rather well preserved. What are you, thirty-one, thirty-two? Still a good figure - and divorced. Well, unattached anyway. I'm typical English and blotchy, but I reckon there's some Latin in you. Your bosom stands out nicely and you don't even have to wear a bra most of the time. It's the students here who really need my attention. I could do a really good job on some of them. Their dainty chests would undoubtedly be enhanced by a couple of pert boobs."
Margaret snorted. "They shouldn't be messed about with. They look atrocious enough in skirts as it is."
Matron regarded her with one of the sour looks she was noted for, and thought cynically, 'Yes, they'd be sweeter for you if they didn't have pricks,' but she didn't say it. "It must remain a fantasy anyway. Miss Hancock will never take up the expense." She paused a moment, then continued sulkily. "And the truth is I'm a nurse no longer. I was struck off from the nursing register last year following my supposed misconduct."
"Misconduct? I'd heard you'd had some trouble, but..."
At that moment matron looked exactly what she was, a lean woman over forty and an obsessive hardened spinster. "I used the facilities at the clinic in which I worked for a sideline business of my own - putting breast implants into men."
Margaret Pardoe's mouth dropped slightly. "You gave men tits?"
The matron nodded, forcing a smile to her lips. "I mainly dealt with the wimpy-types, you know the sort, the one's with forceful and tyrannical wives who make their husbands to do housework whilst wearing frocks and aprons. As I've mentioned I knew the procedure backwards so I knew exactly what I was doing. The doctor's knew about it too, and they raised no objections if they got a portion of my fees. Everyone was happy until one of my patients experienced some disfigurement."
Mrs Pardoe unconsciously clutched at her bosom and seemed to become increasingly startled as the word 'disfigurement' percolated in her mind.
Matron offered a sharp look of impatience. "It was a faulty silicon insert that caused the problem not a want of skill on my part. There's a risk in all surgery, but with accusations of illegal practise being thrown about the doctors took fright and disowned me. Since there could have been criminal charges in the offing I thought it best to simply disappear."
She shrugged and smiled grimly. "So it was goodbye to London and goodbye to my career. And do you know, I really don't give a damn. I've come to enjoy being a country mouse, it's like returning to the womb."
She stood up and made her way over to a line of framed pictures. Carefully stacked against a wall stood a number of pale green classical prints representing mythological subjects. Salamacis and Hermaphrodite, Diana and Callisto, Leda surprised by the swan, and what appeared to be a representation of Aphrodite masturbating a pair of cupids. Behind those were a number oil-paintings draped in dust sheets. "For all their wealth the Fairyfield's possessed little good taste with the artists they favoured, but I've an enigma for you. Are you interested?"
Mrs Pardoe frowned. "I don't like puzzles much, but what is it?"
"What do you make of this?"
As one of the oil-paintings was solemnly uncovered Margaret rose up and leaned forward to inspect it, with her head stooped forward she looked like a tortoise peering out of its shell. The picture consisted of a trio of women seated in a group, two much younger than the central figure. All were dressed in imposing full length dresses and wearing long gloves.
"A family group - mother and daughters probably. Nice looking girls. They're all wearing ball-gowns that date from the 1860s or '70s." She smiled. Even if she'd never been to university she knew about fabrics and clothes and took pride in her knowledge of historical costume. During Queen Victoria's reign crinolines gave way to narrow bustles and it wasn't until the 1880s that wider silhouettes and larger bustles came into favour. "Is it worth much?" she asked.
"The artist is unknown, so just a few pounds I'd say, but the value isn't what intrigues me here. Look at the title on the frame."
Margaret moved closer and stooped to read the inscription on a small tarnished brass plate. 'Henrietta Fairyfield with Juliette and Constance.' She shrugged. "Just as I said, a mother with her daughters."
Matron beamed gleefully. "The artist dated his work on the reverse of the painting as 1878. You get top marks for being right about the period, but I've studied the genealogy of the Fairyfield's and at that time there were no daughters. The family was comprised of Mr Henry Fairyfield, his wife Claudia, and their two sons, Julian and Conway."
Her eyes blazed at Mrs Pardoe. "Do you begin to see? Are you getting the idea? Henry - Henrietta. Julian - Juliette. Conway - Constance." Knowing the other woman to be rather obtuse and painfully unperceptive at times she tapped the canvas with the tip of a bony finger. "This painting portrays a former generation of the male members of the Fairyfield family in 19th Century drag."
"You're curious as to why they'd agreed to be depicted as women, and I think that question can be answered by another portrait." With something of a flourish the matron uncovered another painting and turned it towards her visitor. This time the subject was a full length portrait of a single figure. A tall, slim, pinned and primped matriarchal looking woman.
Determined not to be fooled a second time Margaret examined it more intently than the first, but it was certainly a woman, of that there was no doubt. She had raven hair drawn back into coiled plaits set under a wide brimmed hat, which gave her youngish face a rather severe expression. She was wearing the riding habit of the Victorian period, a full, dark coloured skirt down to her ankles revealing only the tips of polished riding boots, and a matching jacket flared over magnificent hips to give contrast to a white silk shirt and black necktie beneath. Significantly the subject had elected a stance that was imposing and authoritative, one of her gloved hands clutching a riding-crop that she appeared to be tapping against her voluminous skirt in an attitude of impatience.
"Meet Claudia, wife of Henry, a lady whom I suspect was the alpha-bitch of 1878." declared matron. "It wouldn't surprise me to find she ruled this house like a Queen-Empress in her time. Forcing her husband and male offspring to pose as females was probably done to emphasis her domination."
Fascinated by the mysterious woman from the past Margaret squinted at the portrait, this time paying more attention to the face depicted than the clothes being worn. It was a flawless oval lit by slightly uptilted eyes beneath wing-like brows and sweeping black lashes. A delicately chiselled nose added an air of distinction, but an inexplicable expression of cruel disdain spoilt what was potentially a set of handsome features. "The hard mouth, the high cheekbones and the sharp eyes - she bears a surprising familiarity. She's almost the image of Miriam."
Matron's thin lips crinkled. "I've noticed that too. I suspect some of the ladies genes have been passed down through the generations. Some of her traits too, probably. When one delves into the piles of later photographs of the family one can't help wondering if some of the girls in them were really genuine females."
Mrs Pardoe drew back and sniffed. "If all the men were queers or wimps forced into maidenhood I don't wonder the whole family's died out."
Matron seemed to lose interest in that subject and stepped along to uncover yet another canvas and pointed with a bony finger. "This is the real prize find. A 1930s likeness of some old gent done by Philip de Laszlo, the famous society portrait-painter. Laszlo's are extremely collectable y'know. It'll be worth a bundle - thousands. Tens of thousands."
Margaret glanced at the crusty gentleman depicted. "Ugly old bastard, isn't he? You'd never believe him to be worth so much just by looking at him." Her eyes suddenly took on a gleam. "Are you sure about the value?"
Matron gave a haughty stare. "I've researched Laszlo's work in great detail this past week and there's no doubt about the painting or its worth."
"And Miriam - does she know?"
"No, not yet. I wanted to be certain before I told her."
The gleam in the school teacher's eyes became a look of slyness. "Why tell her? If she's not got a clue about what's in this room, she wouldn't know if it went missing."
The other woman's face twitched nervously. "Mrs Pardoe, are you suggesting I steal it? Miriam would certainly prosecute anyone who stole from her and the last thing I need is to be dragged up before a magistrate."
"Why should she hand you over to the law if she doesn't even know she's been robbed for goodness sake?" insisted Margaret, heatedly.
A flush of temptation coloured matron's cheeks. "It would have to go to a London auction house to realise the best price, and I'm bound to be recognised by someone if I hang around somewhere like Sotheby's."
"It won't be long before the school goes into recess. I could take it down south for you then if you wish, and we could split the proceeds. Just think, you could have all the medical things you want installed here, and Miriam wouldn't have a reason to object if you paid for them yourself. And I could afford to buy all the diplomas and references I need to get a post in a real girl's school."
The scheme seemed so simple and so foolproof that even matron's cynical logic became enamoured. Several times they discussed the process by which the oil-painting could be purloined and sold, and they failed to fault it at any stage. By teatime the idea of a moment had blossomed into a full scale plan and they both went down the stairs aglow with secret excitement.
In the entrance hall they met Miss Hancock and Jennifer as they returned from their nature rambling. "Ladies, you look positively inspired." smiled Miriam.
"I've just spent some time with matron and the Fairyfield memorabilia," Mrs Pardoe explained, "It was fascinating. Quite enthralling."
"Ah yes, there's a great deal of history in that room upstairs," agreed the headmistress, "You must both join Jennifer and I for tea and tell us all about the latest discoveries."
"No sign of any antique rings I'm afraid, but there's a lot of rather nice oil-paintings." put in matron, "Some have rather indelicate subject matter, but there's plenty that wouldn't be out of place hung in the entrance hall."
Miriam smiled. "I rather like the sound of that. We'll do it. The portrait of Claudia will make a nice focal point and I'll have old Sylvester Fairyfield put on the wall behind my desk in the study."
Matron's brow creased. "Sylvester Fairyfield?"
"Yes, you've probably come across a Laszlo among the artwork, matron. That'll be Sylvester. Uncle Albert made particular mention of the old man's portrait in his will. Very valuable, so I need to keep it in a safe place."
The remark left her mouth with all the flat tones of innocence banter and she was probably unaware as she led the way in for tea that it thrust a stake through the heart of the avaricious plans so recently prepared by Margaret Pardoe and the matron.
Thunderstruck, the two women cast an uncomfortable glance at each other as they followed behind. The headmistress had just demonstrated she knew more about the contents of the room in the east-wing than she'd ever before admitted and she'd proved that it was a risky business to make assumptions about her lack of knowledge. She was a woman with eyes that could see around corners. She was always one step ahead.
"Come along everyone," urged Miriam, "Gloria tells me we have crumpets for tea."
The gardens at Fairyfield were by stages becoming extensive and the topiaries and tree-shaded walks were put to good use by the boarders whenever they had opportunity. But, picturesque as they were they were not to the taste of everyone, and the more adventurous would often stroll off into the coppice that skirted the boundary of the grounds. It was these wilder reaches that were in favour with Sammy when he was intent on an intimate liaison with a friend. It was to that area he led Jemima that sunny Sunday evening.
Sammy knew Jemima was well up on things of a carnal nature but he had avoided him until now. That being the case his senses were particularly active and he was eager to try out the cute flirt. He put his arm around his lean and supple midriff and studied his face. "I like your hair."
"Uh, huh. It suits you. I do, I really like it."
Jemima blushed at the compliment. He was in the right mood that evening, but the further they went away from the house the more uneasy he was becoming. "If we go into the woods we'll get lost." he said.
"Don't be stupid. It's not a forest," Sammy told him airily, "It's only a few beech trees, and anyway, we can't go much further. I can already see the boundary fence on the far side of them."
Through a small tangle of wildwood glinted the tall iron railings that barred further progress, and beyond them the unmade road that ran level with it for half a mile before turning south towards Peasmarsh. He halted and looked around, and Jemima shuffled at his side. Everything there hung eerily still, like the heat of the day was trapped in the heavy foliage. Not a flicker of movement, just a low buzz of insect life. Right there, alone among the beeches stood a solitary yew tree of great age, its peeling, reddish trunk as thick as a church column. "This will do for what we want." he said.
Jemima ran off around the tree, squeaking with delight as Sammy chased him and he giggled fitfully when he allowed himself to be caught. Sammy clasped him in a bear-hug from behind and softly bit his slender neck.
"No love-bites," Jemima admonished, "And don't get me down on the ground. Miss Twist will go wild if I get my clothes grubby."
Sammy wasn't fooled. Beyond that alienating sheen of innocence lay a wide band of knowledge that he found exciting. There was nothing vulnerable about Jemima, he had to remember that. He was just very good at getting his own way.