Maud Comes for ValentinebyNaokoSmith©
© Naoko Smith 2016
Grateful thanks to Bramblethorn, and to Bramblethorn's wife, for reading and commenting at very short notice on the story and helping out with suitable suggestions for young Victorian ladies' wardrobe items and sports activities.
I had the idea for this story when I read on the Authors' Hangout that doctors used to use vibrators in Victorian Britain to cure hysteria in upper class ladies. It was said that the vibrator had been invented because doctors were getting an early form of repetitive strain injury from wanking off desperate young women.
I thought that was a wonderful idea for an erotic story. Unfortunately, like a lot of myths about Victorian sex and sexuality, it turned out not to be true, LOL, but I figured I would not let the 'truth' get in the way of a good tale. This was far too good a way of writing about repressed female sexuality to let go.
The photos: I took one photo of a picture I cut out from a magazine article about a carousel. The other I took of a Valentine's card I was given by a friend. He found it in an auction house in London where he was working.
I used to go for long tramps over Hampstead Heath with my friend, followed by afternoon tea. I was very bad in those days at picking it up when someone admired me, rather like the heroine of my story. Only much later did I realise that my friend was one of many admirers.
(RIP, dear Phil, I still often think of you.)
The poems: are by George Gordon, Lord Byron; Alfred Tennyson (not ennobled at the time of this story); and Robert Herrick.
Picture of carousel sign.
I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it!
When the feelings rise up in me, I try. I do try. Mama sees the truth. She gives me a look. I tremble so, for fear she will punish me again, and the feelings come rising up -- choking me. I try to look down, modestly, to still my beating heart, to stop the flushed blood rising in my cheeks. I cannot bear it! I get thrown into such a hysteria.
I had the misfortune to be born on St. Valentine's Day -- 1844. A well reared and educated girl, I of course do not look for any foolish lace and paper cards decorated with cupids and the like on The Day. I content myself with a small family party to which Mama may invite one or two of my friends from school.
I just know she will invite Clara Macready again this year. Clara will be simpering with the ring on her finger -- although I own to you, that I have never seen such a small stone in my life. I do not know what she thinks she has to boast of in such a trumpery little ring. She and Mrs Macready will be full of the details of her coming spring wedding.
I cannot bear it! It is my birthday, not Clara Macready's day. She will have her wedding day soon enough. Mama will giving me those sharp looks, to what purpose? How to catch a man as Clara has done -- she is a full year younger than I, yet will be married while I remain imprisoned at home with Mama.
No no! Let me not fall into the hysteria now. I am happy, of course. I am so grateful to Mama for her forbearance. I wish ... but I would not push myself at men as Clara Macready and Cecily Miles do.
I cannot bear it! Oh please no, not the dreadful hysteria. Mama beats me so with the ivory ruler and I cannot help screaming with it.
Perhaps if I had beauty such as Clara's, or a title like the Honourable Lady Cecily Miles. (To you, I need not scruple to say that without her title such a scrawny little thing would find little favour.) Clara is small and has a full hourglass figure with a tiny waist. She has hair like spun gold. She can smile so sweetly at the gentlemen (although I should warn you, she is spiteful in truth). What am I to look at? With my strong shoulders and straight back, my dark hair and grey eyes. Mama is forever telling me not to look so keenly, but it is not I, truly. It is just the look of grey eyes.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
I am obliged to call Clara and Cecily my friends. They are the ones Mama has singled out as suitable for the exchange of visits. I would have preferred someone more after my heart, one of the girls my own age. There was Emily Cardrew who planned to go to college -- yes it is true, there is a women's college to be established at Cambridge University and Emily wished to attend. In classes at school, we would discuss literature and art, however Mama gave me that look when I told her of Emily's plans. I knew with a sinking heart that Emily would not be welcome to afternoon tea and croquet parties in the summer with my brothers and their friends.
Well, Clara has her ring and Emily her studies and I go out and about with Mama. These days she says I should not play shuttlecock even. I should do something less athletic, more decorous: stitching or water colour painting.
Sometimes, I envy even our maids. They have each other and I hear laughter coming up the back stairs from the kitchen. I wonder what fun they might have in each other's company. They told me that Peter the boots boy can do comic accents and sing songs from the music hall stage. I would like to go to the music hall, I think. Yes yes, I know -- such a thing would not be at all proper.
The maid Betty even has a follower. Oh yes, she does, although it is forbidden. I saw her once. I glanced out the window as I went up the stairs. I saw the brazen little hussy on the steps going up from the basement area, tittering and looking in such a way, coquetting with a policeman. She had a rough shawl wrapped quickly about her head; she must have snatched it up to run up the area steps and catch him as he came by on his beat -- the little trollop.
It was a misty autumn night about three or four months ago. I saw her face flushed and laughing in the lamplight, raised to look up the steps at her fancy man's tall figure in the blue uniform. He stood above her where she was hooded by her shawl in the mist. He smiled and twirled a truncheon in his fingers as if to show her how thick and long it was.
That designing ... slut. I cannot bear it! She will be married, and I will be left alone at Mama's beck and call. To do as she says, always exactly as she says. Look here, but not there. Look down and not up. Walk in this way, not that. I could never run up some steps to catch a man -- so sly, so improper.
Later that night, Betty pulled too hard on my corset strings as she dressed me for dinner so I could hardly breathe. I slapped her face for her and told her: "I saw you with your fancy man. Do you want me to tell Mama? You will be turned off without a character if I do."
She stood with her hand to the red slap on her cheek and tears in her eyes -- the false jade. My hand burned with the feeling of that slap to her face. She was a sorry fool to cry for a little slap. I did not slap her with that stinging ivory ruler, now, did I? However much good it would have done her wicked soul.
She is more mindful when she dresses me now. She used to sing under her breath while she did my hair: little songs she brought with her from her home: Blow the wind southerly, southerly southerly. Now she is quiet and careful. Well, that is more proper behaviour on her part. Although it makes me feel stuffy, and then I feel the hysteria rising again -- no, please!
This life: going after Mama to step into the carriage and be taken to tea with her friends; to hear how their daughters are married or will be married. Mama might take me to the shops but it will always be the shops she chooses. She decides what would be proper for me to have and what would not be decent.
I saw a most beautiful pair of gloves, with roses embroidered on the backs. I did think they were most elegant. But no, of course, Mama was right. The plain lavender gloves do very well and match the ribbons to my new bonnet. Only every time I look at the lavender gloves, I think of those embroidered ones and I feel it all coming up in me, I start to choke, my breath gets short, Mama looks at me -- I cannot bear it.
I live for Saturdays and Sundays, when Papa and the boys are not at our family business. Boys, I call them. They are young men. Charles and Ambrose have joined papa to work in our family's business. When we were children, I was closest to Percy -- who is but a year younger than myself. Now he is preparing to go up to Oxford. Charles is very kind to me these days.
On Saturday afternoons Papa will go to his club as a rule, but my brothers might take me to an art gallery, to see some new work perhaps by Sir Edwin Landseer. I like the paintings which are called pre-Raphaelite; Mama disapproves so the boys and I will not talk too much of them to her. Charles will escort me to the bookshops and lending libraries, which Mama calls dusty and does not care for. On Sundays after dinner, Mama discourages the boys from playing card and board games as we might do on Saturday nights. I play the pianoforte and sing, or one of the boys might sing with me.
Ah, in our childhood, how happy we were. I seem to remember those halcyon days as always summer. Our old nurse would take us to the countryside for weeks at a time. I was permitted to run freely with the boys, fishing in the stream and sliding down haystacks. Yes, I was permitted to run! It is no wonder then that now Mama says disapprovingly I am like an Amazon, and she is obliged to beat me into propriety and recommend that I use Rimmel's Lotion for freckles.
Is it for that that I have no ring on my finger, no beau, no card for Valentine's Day? Not that I would wish for such a vain, silly, frivolous piece of nonsense, I assure you.
Nurse used to call my freckles 'sun kisses'. I would be regularly covered in them as a child but now they do not seem so evident, do they? Still, Mama is forever at me to keep my bonnet on, to lower my head as I walk so I do not catch the sun -- or some worthless man's roving eye.
I assure you, I am most content at home with Mama. I have no wish to throw myself away on any man. Men are so .... I do not know what to think of Charles and Ambrose's friends, if they are permitted to visit. Charles's friend Valentine, for example. (He also works in papa's business so he is invited sometimes to dine.) When Charles brought him to visit, he remarked on how my birthday is Valentine's Day, and Valentine gave me a keen look.
I dislike him extremely, I assure you. He looks at me in such a way, it troubles me. We used to play shuttlecock and then it was not so bad, we would talk while we played. Valentine used to apologise if he hit the feathered shuttle too far for me. I would laugh and say it was not his fault if I could not get to it sufficiently quickly. But Mama said privately to me that I must not jump and run like a hoyden, nor chatter to men too freely.
Now it is winter, Valentine comes of an evening and asks me to play the pianoforte, to accompany his singing. Last Sunday he brought the setting to music of words by the poet laureate, Alfred Tennyson.
Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the rose is blown.
For a breeze of morning moves,
And the planet of Love is on high,
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves
On a bed of daffodil sky,
To faint in the light of the sun she loves,
To faint in his light, and to die.
My name ... my name being Maud, it seemed a very particular compliment. Mama was looking, I felt sure, but I could not lift my eyes to see. It is a popular song. Likely it means nothing.
I cannot bear him! Why must he tease me so? I played badly. It made me anxious. I do not know how I made it through the evening without falling into hysterics. My breath was rising short up against the tight bands of my corset. I felt as if the light pink ruffles of my evening gown were fluttering on my breast. He tried to take my hand as he said his farewells but I could not bear it! I stood back by Mama with my head down. Then after he had gone, the feelings came up. I started laughing and crying all at once, hiccoughing with terror -- of what? What is it but a little song? Mama beat me but it only seems to make it worse these days.
No no, she does it most scrupulously, not to leave a mark. She is so mindful of me, the best of parents. Oh I am wicked, wicked to carry on in this way! If only I had not been let run free as a child, perhaps I would not wish now to run free as I would do then.
I hear them sometimes, if I come past a half-open door, talking: "Who will have her if she carries on in this way?" That was Charles. We do not see so much of Ambrose these days.
Sometimes I hear them speak of the woman with whom Ambrose has taken up: a married woman, to take up with Ambrose. The harsh words stop as soon as they realise I am in earshot but I have heard them call her: slut, trollop, jade. At least, I hope it is her they are speaking of and not me?
I saw Ambrose's ... friend once and she did not look .... I saw her walking with Ambrose in the park. I had thought she must be a much older woman and there was Ambrose walking with a woman as pretty as the china Dresden shepherdess on our mantelpiece. She wore a pink and white bonnet, she was so dainty walking with her hand in my brother's arm and a pink and white parasol held just at the fashionable angle and she was laughing so freely with him.
Do you know, I should not wonder if she even wears embroidered gloves.
Ambrose looked the happiest man alive. I was going, smiling, to greet him, when Mama saw them. I thought that the pretty young lady might also be a friend to me but Mama pushed me away so that I stumbled and ... and showed my ankle! She was so angry about it. She hustled me away from the park, castigating me for a clumsy trollop -- what lady would show her leg as I had done. It brought on my hysteria and it was all she could do to get me into the carriage and home. Such a slapping as she gave my poor hands with the ruler that night.
I used to be so fond of all my brothers. Ambrose helped me catch a fish in the stream one wonderful summer day. I even remember the picnic we had, with ham sandwiches and slices of cake. We sat on the dry grassy ground and ate as heartily as we wished. Now I am always picking at my food, for the corsets restrict you so, you cannot be eating much when wearing your corset tightly laced. Later in the day I sometimes feel so hungry. I get black spots before my eyes and feel dizzy and faint. But it is for the best. I have managed a nineteen inch waist. If that slut Betty can only pull the corset strings properly tight.
That slut Betty and her fancy man ....
Clara Macready will be coming boasting on my birthday about her fiancé ....
Will Valentine come? I hope not, I truly hope Charles does not ask Mama if he may come ....
I wish Ambrose would come, will he not come? Although he would not be able to bring his pretty friend. For she is a slut, a trollop, a jade. Yet she looked not so very different to me ....
My breath is coming short, forgive me, forgive me! I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it!
It was Charles who heard of the good doctor. I overheard him one morning saying: "The case is becoming desperate, Mama. Here is Valentine a-fire for her but if he suspects her illness it will all be up. Besides, her nervous complaint means she is likely in a fit to refuse even such a good match as he."
I did not of course make any silly girlish assumption about Charles's mention of Valentine. I could feel my breath coming short, the warm blood rising in my body, my heart beating against the whalebone tightness of my corset.
Again so soon! I cannot bear it. Two nights before, Charles had brought Valentine back to dine. He read to us so beautifully. Valentine is handsome: tall and strong with blond hair and blue eyes, broad-shouldered in his Prince Albert frock coat. I am sure Clara Macready or Cecily Miles would be simpering and on the catch for him, Mrs Macready and Lady Miles would be out to get him for them with his good prospects in papa's business. I wish very much he will not come to my birthday party this year, on Valentine's Day. It might even be called his day, rather than mine. I am sure they would say so, and I will be put quite in the shade, sitting to the side with their mamas while they chatter to him and play the pianoforte.
I could not bear that.
I do not care for Valentine's handsome looks or his prospects. I love his voice. So beautifully modulated, with tones that can be dramatic or low and sweet. I love when he comes of an evening and reads to us. It puts me in a swoon. I will sit, leaning forward to hear -- my stitching forgotten in my lap. I lift my eyes eagerly to him. My pleasure is evident on my face, I know. Mama has told me to be more circumspect, but when Valentine reads to us I cannot help myself.
The other night he read us parts of Tennyson's The Princess. I felt as if caught in the sweetness of his voice and in the words, as if caught in his arms to do unto me as the words spelled it out.
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font.
The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.
Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.
Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.
Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.
Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake.
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.
Afterwards I could not but smile tremblingly, my flushed face raised to him full of pleasure. Then I was bitterly ashamed and embarrassed at my wanton behaviour -- this was not how my dear Mama raised me to be. I could feel everyone looking at me, and at Valentine: Mama, Papa and Charles. I began to feel my breath come short, my chest heaving against my corset. I excused myself hurriedly, clumsily, and left the room as quickly as I might.
Such a stinging slapping as Mama had to give me. Half the night she and the maids were up with me. I was screaming and crying, they slapping and throwing water at me to try to bring me to my senses.
All the next day, I lay abed, unable to receive Valentine who came on a particular visit.
He left me his own copy of The Princess, so elegantly bound in gold-tooled leather, and a note to say it must be mine for he could see how the poetry moved me. Only with the greatest of efforts did I avoid being cast into hysteria again at this.
Oh no, of course I realise it does not mean anything. Besides, I dislike him so much. He looks at me so and hangs over me when I arrange the music on my pianoforte in a way that makes me ... uneasy. I feel as if little pricks of arrows are darting into me, as if his gaze is a shaft that penetrates deep into my soul. I am sure that is very unpleasant for a proper young lady, such as Mama has raised me to be. It is only that I like to hear his voice -- anyone would delight in such tones, it is a voice in which to fold oneself and slip into and be lost in.