The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
I had met Ben at a costumed Ball held by our local re-enactment group. They had been in existence for some years and each year tried to have a different theme for their annual Ball. It could be Regency, Victorian, 1920s or any other era.
The year I met Ben they had tried a one-off, a transvestite costume Ball. All those attending had to be in another sex's clothing but from any time period except the present. I was wearing a mid-Victorian Gentleman's suit, frock coat, tapered trousers, top hat, and cane.
Ben was dressed in a crinolined ball gown which he had been finding difficult to manage because the skirts were so wide. That's how we met.
"Hello," I said, "May I have the pleasure of this dance? I'm Julia, oops I suppose I shouldn't be Julia dressed like this."
"Thank you, Julia. I'm Ben. If you are willing to try, I'd like to dance with you."
He stood up and nearly overbalanced as his dress swung violently. Although he had worked out how to sit gracefully in a crinoline, he hadn't practised standing up.
Once we were on the dance floor I knew that Ben was having trouble managing his extended crinoline. I showed him how to move, how to get up gracefully and most of all, how to dance as a lady. We spent most of that evening together. Ben liked my suit. I liked his dress. We agreed to meet the next day. After a couple of normal dates I asked if I could try on Ben's dress. He agreed if he could borrow my Gentleman's suit.
Apart from my breasts, we were of similar build. He could wear my re-enactment clothing. I could wear his. We rarely swapped because the group decided that the transvestism was not popular with their members. Realistic costumes were and are expensive and few people wanted to spend money on clothing they would rarely wear. After a couple of months Ben gave me the crinolined dress. I gave Ben my suit.
That was twelve years ago. We married and set up home together but never had children. Both of us have very low fertility. I have always had a very erratic menstrual cycle which sometimes gave me false hopes. We had had extensive tests but even fertility treatment didn't work. Either of us might have managed to be fertile, if we had different partners, but together it was hopeless.
The bedroom we had intended to be a nursery turned into a dressing, or dressing-up, room to store our costumes, and where Ben helped me to dress. I needed help because most of my costumes were from an era when ladies had maids. Ben didn't need help to don his suits. When fashionable men wore very tight trousers and fitted jackets those had become easy to put on if made of modern stretch fabrics.
When we were designing our outfits, I might model Ben's suits. He might be a mannequin while I created my dresses. Sometimes we made love dressed as each other. It excited me to lift Ben's skirt and find his erection. He wasn't so enthusiastic about me being dressed as a man. He preferred seeing my naked body. He would kiss me, gradually moving up from toes to lips as part of arousing me. I liked stripping him of his complicated female clothing. For that Ben wore dresses that were our earlier or failed attempts. Our formal costumes were too valuable for enthusiastic love play. Apart from our first meeting we never cross-dressed in public.
Both of us wanted children and that was a frequent cause of arguments between us. We didn't want to adopt. We wanted our own children. Less than a year ago we agreed to a temporary separation, perhaps to see if we could live apart, or whether we wanted a divorce. Ben took an apartment near his work while I stayed in our house. He joined a costume group there. I continued with the group we had met at. At first we met at weekends and then Ben's visits became less frequent. We still couldn't make a complete break. Maybe we should have done.
Next weekend we are going away, together, to an annual costumed event. This year it is at Halloween but one theme is endangered French Aristos after the Fall of the Bastille. If we aren't Halloween characters we can be Aristocratic in Revolutionary France, or as an Émigré in England. The hotel and conference centre is an appropriate location. It was the home of an Émigré French Count and his Countess. He had managed to sell his property in France and the French Colonies and move all his assets to England, buying what became called The Maison, a small Stately home on a large estate. Unusually, he had also invested in Cotton Mills.
The interesting story, as far as we were concerned as re-enactors, was that his Countess had been very reluctant to leave France, not believing the real truth of the danger she was in. The Count had to trick her, and effectively abduct her to England. Later on, their home became a centre for French society, and almost a museum or shrine to what had been lost. The Count's descendants even acquired a guillotine and installed in the basement. The guillotine was in operational order but had never been used except to demonstrate how it worked.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were handed a booklet explaining the history of the Count, Countess and The Maison. It included the story of the Countess' abduction and the re-enactors wanted the members of the group to perform their version of that story. The couple who were considered to have produced the most effective scenario would win a prize.
The Count had sold the ancestral estate that adjoined the Loire River but hadn't dared tell the Countess. She had refused to leave France and her extensive family connections even when one of them had been executed. She just didn't believe that a nobleman could have been guillotined.
That day the Count had come by ship from England and that ship was moored just out of sight of the chateau. He had taken two of the Countess' maids to England to help set up the new apartments at the Maison for his wife to 'visit'. Of course he intended that she should never return to France. Unfortunately for him, the Countess suspected that was his intention, and although allowing the maids to travel, would not leave.
While in London, the Count had sent the maids to fashionable dressmakers and to émigré balls as observers of the current fashions.
The maids had noted and told him about the styles 'a la victime'. The émigré ladies dressed as if on the way to the guillotine, with hair lifted well above the neck. Their dresses had red ribbons crossed between their breasts, tied at the back. The most extreme style was 'fichu a la guillotine', using a triangular shawl to pinion the elbows and wrists so that the wearer could only waggle her hands futilely.
Although the Countess was not willing to leave France, she was interested in current fashions. She knew that Paris was too dangerous for her to visit, but the descriptions of the latest French fashions in London appealed to her, even if she thought they could be in poor taste.
The Count had instructed the two maids to bring some of the dresses and accessories back to the chateau. On the evening of his return he encouraged his wife to wear one of the more extreme fashions for dinner. It would mean that she would have to be fed, but surely that wasn't too difficult with a large staff of servants?
The Countess came to dinner wearing a tight-skirted dress and the special fichu. She needed help even to sit down. She couldn't lift her skirt. The maids hitched it up and helped her into the chair. They fed her carefully.
At the end of the meal, the Count made a pre-arranged signal to one of the maids. She brought a couple of shawls. The Count suggested a walk on the terrace since it was a balmy summer evening. The Countess had to be helped to her feet and then they went out of the Chateau's front door, down the formal stairway, and turned to walk along the terrace.
The maids followed a couple of steps behind. The Count again asked his wife if she would accompany him to England. She refused. The Count sighed and held out his hand to one of the maids. She passed him a shawl.
The Count rolled the shawl into a band and suddenly gagged the Countess. While he was silencing her, the maids wrapped the other shawl around her legs and tied it tightly. The Count picked his wife up, lifted her to his shoulders as she struggled vainly, and walked off the terrace towards the Loire.
One of the maids ran back into the house and sounded the alarm bell. That was the signal for all the staff to go to the ship and leave the chateau. The Count's ship was large enough to accommodate all those who were willing to make a new life with him in England. Except for some of the elderly retainers, almost all had chosen exile and had been waiting for the Countess' change of mind which was now unnecessary.
Once the ship was under way, the Count removed the gag from his wife and listened patiently to her tirade of abuse before stopping it with a kiss.
"I'm sorry, my love," he said, holding his hand lightly over her mouth. "I couldn't wait any longer. The orders for our arrest are to be issued tomorrow. Your cousins Jacques and Christian were guillotined last week. We would be executed before the month is out. I have saved your life..."
The Countess burst into tears and sobbed against the Count's shoulder. It was several weeks before she forgave him completely for her temporary indignity. The news of more and more relations dying on the guillotine persuaded her that their sudden move to England was indeed essential. It helped, that unlike many émigrés, their lifestyle in England was supported by vast wealth.
That was the scenario all of us had to emulate...
We had booked adjoining linked rooms as soon as the location and theme of the event had been announced last year. Now we weren't so sure since we had been living apart for most of the time.
The participants needed the long notice to research the era, to design and make their costumes, and to rehearse how they would act the Countess' abduction if they wanted to compete. We would have worked together but not this year. We communicated by email, text and infrequent phone calls. We had met face to face very rarely.
Unfortunately that led to real misunderstandings and even arguments between us. After ten years of marriage we had been used to shorthand communication. A tone of voice or a gesture had conveyed more meaning than the actual words. Texts were particularly bad. I stopped texting after Ben had taken the words in a sense I hadn't meant. With emails I could draft, re-read, and edit before sending. Texts couldn't be recalled.
The worst disagreement had been about this event. I had suggested by text that we might cause a surprise if we repeated the transvestite theme with Ben as the Countess. He had objected. He wrote that had been barely tolerable when everyone was dressed as the opposite sex. If we were the only cross-dressed couple he would be embarrassed, particularly as my victim.
That text reply had hurt. I had read it not as a rejection of the idea, but as a complete rejection of me. At the time I was at a costume event and I was not enjoying it without Ben. He was at another and had found an attractive partner, Mary. I thought that the event and Mary were at the same time, that Ben was there with Mary. He wasn't. He was as unhappy as me. The relationship with Mary had already petered out because both of them were married but separated, unsure whether their marriages were actually over. I had been told about Mary by Jane, one of our friends, and how much Ben was enjoying Mary's company. I didn't know that Mary was in the past tense.
At the time our separate living arrangements hadn't helped. I was finding it a struggle to pay the mortgage on our house on just her salary. Neither of us wanted to give up the house but I couldn't buy Ben out, neither could Ben buy my half. Ben was helping with some of the bills but we needed to live apart.
Ben's parents had arranged through the wider family for Ben to rent a former farm worker's cottage on an uncle's farm. The rent was low in exchange for his help in renovating it and several other cottages in the row for holiday letting. If that scheme was successful Ben could continue in the cottage and be the key holder for Saturday changeovers, the maintenance man and the manager for the cottages. I was envious. The location was far more pleasant than our modern house on a boring estate.
I didn't know that Ben was working very hard. It was a busy time at his work with long hours. His weekends were taken up with being a builder's labourer, or plumber's and electrician's mate. The weekend when Ben met Mary had been his first break from seven day a week working for three months. He should have come to see me, or I should have gone to see him, but that Saturday evening I had been invited to a birthday party of one of my bridesmaids and didn't think I should back out. He was hurt that I couldn't see him on the only time he was free. I didn't know that his absence had been work related.
If I had met him during the day on that Saturday or on Sunday we might not have been so angry with each other, or he might not have jumped into Mary's arms. I don't know. All I do know is that we are further apart than ever and this event is the almost the first time that we will be together for any length of time. And we have to work together, to present a united scenario, when we are barely talking.
Another dispute is worrying me slightly. Ben and I together have won more trophies from costumed competitions than some members of both our current groups think is fair. Both of us do extensive research and produce replicas of clothes that were actually worn, not pastiches that might be period. We can show the evidence of the original designs being worn. Others might emulate our success if they were willing to do as much work as we do. It doesn't make us popular.
We had to work together to produce the costumes for Count and Countess. The research was easy. The Maison's website showed a portrait of the Count and Countess at the time of her abduction, standing on the terrace with her arms bound with the shawl and the count about to gag her. We copied every detail of their clothing. Ben and I emailed each other with pictures as our creations were being made. His suit looked right. So did my dress.
It was arrangement of the shawl or fichu that was being awkward. I couldn't tie myself in it. About three months before the event Ben and I agreed that he should come to my house for a Saturday evening and we would rehearse the abduction. I was afraid he wouldn't agree. We still hadn't settled the argument about Ben's time with Mary. I didn't know that he hadn't seen Mary for months. I thought they were still together and that hurt.
That evening I dressed casually in a skirt and T-shirt because I would be trying on costumes. Ben arrived in a track suit. He put the suitcase containing his costume on the floor. I blurted out:
"Haven't seen her for weeks. Didn't Jane tell you? It was over before it started. Mary and I were commiserating with each other about the fragile state of our marriages. After a few meetings for coffee in the High Street we agreed that we weren't free to be anything more than friends. She's back with her husband. It might work out. He's realised how much she means to him..."
That was a long speech for Ben. I believed every word but stopped his flow by kissing him. He responded, wrapping his arms around me in a fierce hug.
"What was that for?" He asked when my lips let him speak.
"An apology for believing lies about you, Ben."
"That's rather hard on our friend Jane. She told you I was seeing Mary. As far as she knew that was true. It wasn't her fault that it was old news and past its sell-by date."
The implied criticism was that I shouldn't have believed the worst on so little evidence. I was so happy to be in Ben's arms again that I ignored it.
"Our dinner is a casserole. It's in the oven and should be ready in about an hour. Do you want a coffee, Ben, or do we compare costumes now?"
"Why not take mugs of coffee to the dressing room, Julia?"
We did. On the wall I had put a large photo of the painting of the Count and Countess. Our costumes were as close to that painting as we could manage. I stripped to bra and panties. Ben was wearing just his boxers.
Ben helped me into my narrow column dress. He had to tie the red ribbons around my bust carefully. As he did, I kissed him again. He kissed me back.
I handed him the shawl to be used as the fichu a la guillotine. He checked with the painting as he wound it around my elbows and wrists before tying it behind my back. He agreed that it didn't look right and tried to adjust it to match the binding used on the Countess. He stood back and looked critically at me.
"The dress is great. It's the shawl that won't do," he announced. "It isn't as tight as the original and I think you could release yourself too easily."
He stepped forward and kissed me again. I struggled with my bonds. He was right. I freed myself, lifted my hands to his head and held him as I kissed.
"I have another version that is longer but I'm not sure. Can I try it on you, Ben?"
"Why not?" He replied. "You might work it out."
He stood still as I wrapped the shawl around his shoulders. I crossed it in front, looped and knotted it around his elbows that he held by his sides. I crossed it behind his back and brought the ends forward to knot around his wrists before bringing the ends together in front of his waist and knotting it again. Even if the knot in front came loose, his wrists would still be tied. If he got those free, his elbows would still be held to his sides.
"Gloves," Ben said suddenly. "She's wearing gloves. Surely they would make it harder for her to free herself."
How had I overlooked the gloves? I might have found it impossible to free myself from the first attempt if I had been wearing gloves. But even if I had, it wouldn't have looked right. The way I had tied Ben was closer to the original but still not quite there.
"I'll get the gloves, Ben."
"I'm not going anywhere," he said wryly.
I had to loosen all the knots before Ben could wear the above elbow white gloves. I tightened the knots again. Ben walked over to the picture.
"Look, Julia," he said, nodding at part of the picture. "There are a couple of details we've missed. Look at her left arm -- closely."
I looked. At first I couldn't see what Ben meant. Then I saw. The fichu passed through a loop sewn to the glove above the elbow, and there was another loop at the wrist. No wonder our fichu wouldn't sit as portrayed.
"Oh," I said. "I'll have to add those loops before we try again. After dinner perhaps?"
"OK, Julia. You'll have to free me. I can't eat like this."
"You're not supposed to feed yourself, Ben. The maids feed you."
"But we haven't got a maid."
"We will have. Harriet and Ruth will act as the maids on the day."
Harriet and Ruth had been two of my four bridesmaids. They were friends to both of us and had been unhappy about our separation.
"They're not here."
"OK. I'll untie you. But first..."
I flung my arms around his head and kissed him again. His arms thrashed but his bonds held.
"That's not fair!" He protested. "I want to hold you too."
I unwound the shawl and we hugged. I changed back into my normal clothes, carefully put the Countess' dress away, and we adjourned for dinner. Ben dished up the casserole as I started to sew loops to the long white gloves. I had finished one pair when we sat down to eat.