Laundry Tales 08: Droit De Seigneurbyjeanne_d_artois©
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.
This story is one of a series of tales told by Martha the ghost. Each one is complete in itself and they can be read in any order.
The laundry of my ancestors' house is now my workshop. I'm a potter and good enough at my trade to make a reasonable living from it.
The main attraction of the laundry room was Martha, the resident ghost. I was aware of her from an early age. I would sit on the scrubbed table and ask Martha to tell me a story. She always did. When I became an adult, she told me about incidents from previous ages at the Hall. Each time I become the heroine of the story and experience the events exactly as she had. This is one of those stories.
I was looking at an old photo album that I had found in a car boot sale. None of the pictures were captioned or dated but I had liked the fashions worn in the photos. They were late 19th or early 20th Century. The men's suits could have been earlier or later. I was looking more closely at the women, all of whom were wearing long dark skirts. Did they have bustles? Or not?
I had a very old black skirt draped across my lap. From time to time I held it up, trying to match its folds to the skirts in the photos.
Martha's voice sounded in my head, as it always did when she was in contact with me.
"That reminds me," she started.
"Of what?" I asked.
"Of a Christmas incident about the turn of the century in the kitchen at the Hall."
I sat back and waited for Martha to start her story.
"It all started with Albert, the next to eldest brother. He was a rake and he started his career with the servant girls. He believed he had the Droit de Seigneur, the right to use the family's servants as sexual prey. The family hushed it up at the time but he had made two girls pregnant within a couple of weeks. The girls and their children were looked after, but Albert was banished to the colonies, specifically Australia. He never returned."
"What did he do in Australia?" I asked.
"It doesn't matter. He joined the Australian Army at the start of the First World War and died bravely at Gallipoli. It is thought that he joined then because he had married at least three times, bigamously and had too many children by mistresses as well. He isn't important except that the servant women were worried that the sons of the family might have similar tendencies. When his younger brother Simon was about to come home from Oxford for Christmas the younger servant women were really tense, watching for a sign that he might be like Albert."
"Wait for the story. Ellen was the Head Laundry Maid, working here. Despite her young age, she was the Head because she was the most competent at laundry, best organiser, and popular. She had persuaded your family to let the laundry take in work from the village. One of the laundry maids used to take a handcart around the village every day, collecting dirty washing and returning clean clothes.
Ellen was twenty. Simon was twenty-one. They had been friends for many years. Even when Simon was very young they used to play together in and around the Laundry Room while Ellen's mother was working. They had stayed friends but their relationship had always been just that, friends and no more.
When Simon went back to Oxford earlier that year he had given Ellen a tentative peck on the cheek, the first ever. She had hugged him briefly. That was their sole acknowledgement that they were man and woman, not just friends. Or was it friends saying goodbye?
Except for Albert, Ellen would have thought nothing of Simon's kiss. But Albert, recently departed for Australia, had caused chaos among the servants and Ellen was worried."
As usual when Martha started telling me one of her stories I found myself assuming the role of the main female character. I was becoming Ellen. My legs were covered by a long black skirt over which I was wearing a waist apron. I could feel the heat of the laundry, my chapped hands, my hot clothing even though I was wearing only a light cotton blouse above my waist. I was impatient with some of the other laundry staff. Why didn't they understand the importance of their work, the need to produce absolutely clean clothes no matter how soiled they had been when brought in?
Despite the ordered work going on around me I was thinking about how I should respond to Simon when he came to see me, as I knew he would. Why shouldn't he? He would talk about his experiences at Oxford. He would listen to my tales of the Laundry room and want to catch up with all the local gossip. He would probably want to hear the servants' version of Albert's amours.
Why was I concerned? All my life Simon had been a friend or more like my slightly older brother than a member of the Hall's family. Why should that change? All there had been was one peck on the cheek to which I had responded with a hug. Simon wasn't Albert. But the nagging doubt remained. Simon was Albert's brother.
I wanted to marry in the next few years. He didn't know it, but within a few months I was sure I could persuade Jonathan to propose. He was a senior groom and was being trained to drive the family's expensive new toy, a Daimler car. If he became a qualified chauffeur, we would be earning enough to start a family. I couldn't afford to ruin my prospects by an affair with Simon.
I even knew when Simon would come to the Laundry room. He wouldn't come during the day when I would be too busy. He wouldn't come when I was surrounded with the other Laundry maids. He would come in the evening, after dinner, when I sat down to do the accounts - alone.
The accounts! Simon had taught me how to do them. We had spent many hours with our heads nearly touching, as he had taught me how to set out the accounts clearly, legibly and how to balance them. In all that time Simon had never touched me inappropriately, never even hinted that he wanted to. Yet Albert's sexual marauding had made me doubt Simon. Damn Albert!
Everyone else was getting excited about Christmas. Of course it meant more work for the servants, even for me. I would change my role slightly and help to serve Christmas dinner, dressed as a parlour maid with a crisp white waist apron over my black dress, or perhaps a white blouse with a black skirt. What we would wear depended on the Butler's decision.
During the past few days all the maids' best uniforms had been washed and ironed in the laundry. I had taken the opportunity to sort my clothing into best and not so good. We servants had more clothing than most people of our class because the family replaced the uniforms frequently. Our black skirts were popular because when no longer required as uniform we could wear them when walking out.
I had three spare black skirts. The oldest was also the narrowest at the hem and lined with material from a recycled black silk petticoat. It wasn't a favourite because I couldn't stride out as I wanted to. But looking at it splayed on a bench gave me an idea.
At the end of the day I spoke to my friends and fellow maids Amy and Esther and asked them to stay behind tomorrow evening when Simon would come to see me. I explained what I wanted them to do. They thought my idea was ridiculous, my fears of Simon unfounded, but they agreed to cooperate as long as I took all the blame if anything went wrong. I had forgotten that Esther was Jonathan's sister.
Simon was collected by the family's carriage from the railway station. As the oldest son living at the Hall he was formally met by the assembled servants lined up outside the front door. He walked along the line as we bowed and curtseyed. He had a word with most of us, and shook hands with all, even me. He had a smile for everyone.
Why was I so worried? This was the Simon I knew, friendly, polite and genuinely popular with all.
That evening after dinner I was ready for Simon to arrive. Amy and Esther were nearby. We had even added a few sprays of fir tree as Christmas decorations. Normal decorations would soon have looked soggy and distressed in the Laundry's heated air, now cooling as the most of stoves died down.
Simon walked in as if he hadn't been away. As I had always done I offered to make him a cup of tea. He sat in his usual chair as I put the kettle on the stove that was kept alight all night to dry the clothing hanging on racks suspended from the ceiling.
"Well, Ellen, what has happened while I've been away?" Simon asked.
"Nothing much, except for your brother Albert..."
"Albert! I wish he wasn't my brother. He's a..."
What he might have said was interrupted by my actions. I had been standing behind his chair. I grabbed my old black skirt, threw it over Simon's head and pulled it down as hard as I could. It jammed his arms against his sides. Amy and Esther rushed in, holding old waist aprons. They wrapped them around his ankles, lashing his legs to the chair. I had used another apron around his waist to secure the skirt. My final action was to cover the lower part of his face with a rolled shawl to muffle any protests.
But there weren't any. From the moment my skirt covered him until he was finally immobilised, Simon hadn't resisted or objected at all. He had sat still and let us do whatever we wanted. Amy and Esther ran out as soon as I had gagged Simon.
I lowered the shawl.
"What now, Ellen?" Simon asked quietly.
"I want to talk to you, Simon, uninterrupted and safely, about your brother Albert."
"You can. You three have made sure that Ellen is safe from me. What do you want to say?"
"a bastard?" Simon's word shocked me.
"Yes." I replied.
"I know he was," Simon added. "But I'm not Albert. I have never interfered with any of the women at the Hall, have I?"
"Not as far as I know," I replied, "but..."
"There are no 'buts'," Simon said. "I have never. I like them. I trust them. They trust me. I trust you, Ellen, and always have. That's why I let you three truss me up like the Christmas turkey."
I scrabbled at the knot on the apron around his waist.
"Stop!" Simon ordered. "Don't let me go until we've settled this. You're safe from me while I'm tied up. I am NOT Albert. What he did makes me sick. If I had known, or my parents had known, we'd have stopped him. But we didn't know until it was too late..."
"We knew. All the servants knew that no woman was safe near him."
"Why didn't you say something?" Simon said despairingly. "If the servants couldn't have told my parents, you, at least, could have said something to me. We are friends."
"I thought you knew and let Albert do what he wanted."
"You think that badly of me? No wonder you wanted me immobilised before we could talk. I am ashamed of Albert. Every member of the family is. We hope we never hear of him again. My father has disowned and disinherited him, banished him to Australia."
Simon had spoken very forcefully. I sat on the edge of the table, shaken by his words. He hadn't known but we had. We had been allowing Albert to abuse women when a word from any of us could have stopped it. I started to cry. Only then did Simon try to struggle free from his restraints.
"Let me out, please, Ellen," he asked quietly.
"Not yet," I said. "there's something I must do first. Your cup of tea?"
I was joking but the kettle was boiling furiously. I walked over the stove and made the tea, leaving it to stew.
"...and something I should have done months ago..." I continued.
Simon sat absolutely still as I moved in front of him. I kissed his forehead, softly and gently.
"That is for being a friend," I said.
I moved my mouth down to his lips and kissed him fiercely. My arms wrapped around his head and held us together.
"...and that was for doubting you," I said as I pulled away slightly, still cradling his head in my hands.
"Phew!" Simon exclaimed. "That was a real repayment. But you shouldn't have done that. We're never going to be more than friends. You have your own future, your future fiancé. I have mine."
"How do you know about my future fiancé? Who is he?"
Simon shook his head with a smile on his face.
"He might not know. I know because almost all the other servants know. As for me? At the Christmas dinner my engagement and the name of my fiancée will be announced. She might not be too pleased if she finds out I've been very effectively tied up and comprehensively kissed by Ellen. He might not be too pleased either, so can we remain friends, share a teapot -- after you have untied me? That is, if you trust me now?"
"Of course I do. I should never have doubted you, Simon," I said as I finally untied the apron's knot.
I dropped to my knees and unfastened the aprons that Amy and Esther had used on his ankles. I tried to lift the skirt off his body but it was stuck fast.
"I'm sorry, Simon," I said. "The skirt is jammed. Can you try to wriggle your arms free?"
He wriggled. I pulled. My face was close to his. He leant forward and kissed my forehead. My lips moved up to meet his just as the skirt finally slid upwards separating us. I threw it aside and kissed Simon again. When we parted we were both short of breath and regretting our lapse. We were friends, not lovers, but kissing Simon was enjoyable. I just wished that it was Jonathan I was kissing. But that would come.
We sat side by side and drank our cups of tea. Gradually we resumed our former relationship, guilty that we had almost slipped into something more.
As we talked the emotion between us slowly subsided. We liked each other but our paths would be different. An hour or so later Simon left. We hugged perhaps for the last time.
I went back into the laundry room and began to tidy up. I put the old black skirt and the aprons back on the bench next to the shawl I had used to gag Simon. I had just finished when Jonathan walked in.
"What are you doing here, Jonathan?" I asked, slightly embarrassed. Had Jonathan been a witness?
"Esther asked me to be nearby," Jonathan explained. "Just in case you got yourself, or them, into trouble. You nearly did, didn't you?"
"She is my sister."
I had forgotten. But now I was worried. What had Jonathan heard, or worse still seen?
"Some of the time I was jealous of Simon..." Jonathan said.
"Partly because you kissed him. You've never kissed me, Ellen. But the kisses didn't matter. I know he's your friend. What I was really jealous about was that you wrapped and tied him up in your skirt..."
"My skirt! Why?"
"Because you were holding him in a tight hug even if it was your skirt, not you, that was doing the hugging. I wanted to be in his predicament..."
"Be my guest," I said, pointing to the chair.
"You mean it?" Jonathan was blushing.
"If that's what you want, Jonathan, you'll have it. Sit!"
Jonathan slowly sat down. He looked as if he couldn't really believe that he had asked to be tied up and even more incredulous that I had agreed.
I threw the long black skirt over his head and pulled it down much harder than I had on Simon. I knotted the apron around his body, tighter this time. I attached his ankles to the chair's legs. Jonathan sat there with an inane grin on his face. The grin vanished as I gagged him with a spare apron and completely covered his head inside the shawl.
"You're wrapped, Jonathan," I announced. "Much more effectively than Simon was. That's my skirt holding you, my aprons binding you, my apron gagging you and my shawl hooding you. You're hugged by my clothing, and..."
I pressed his head into my cleavage, wrapping my arms around his head and locking them in place.
"...smothered between my breasts."
A faint moan emerged from under the shawl. I released my hold slightly so Jonathan could breathe. I moved back and uncovered his head. His face was bright red against the white of my apron sealing his mouth. I threw the shawl away and heaved his head back into my cleavage. His head wriggled slightly from side to side as I held him tight.
This time I kissed his forehead. I removed the apron gagging him and replaced it with my lips. I kissed Jonathan much more fiercely than I had kissed Simon. These were lover's kisses, unrestrained and much more passionate. Jonathan began to respond, slowly at first but gradually with more fervour.
I felt him struggling within my enveloping skirt. He was totally helpless. Unless I released him, he would be my prisoner all night. He opened his mouth as if to say something. Too late! My lips smothered his words and my arms writhed around his head, clamping him to me.
Again and again I alternated passionate kissing with smothering in my cleavage. My blouse began to gape. I unbuttoned it and the next smothering was between my naked breasts. Jonathan was moaning more and more until I felt his lower body judder. I had brought him to an erection and beyond. His head slumped against me. I held him quietly against my breasts until he began to recover. His head tilted backwards and this time I let him speak.
"Ellen," he said gently, "Will you be my wife?"
My first answer was to haul his head back into my naked cleavage, pushing my breasts together around his head. When I let him breathe, he asked plaintively:
"Was that a yes?"
"Of course it was, Jonathan. We're engaged."
We kissed again, and again. I went on for hours kissing and smothering Jonathan.
When I finally released him it took all my strength to undo the knots that I had tied so tightly. Jonathan had to stand up with the chair dangling before I could extricate him from the embrace of my skirt. When he left, he took my old black skirt with him as a reminder.
On Christmas Day Jonathan and I were dressed formally while helping to serve the Christmas Dinner. I was wearing my best black skirt, my best white blouse and a lace-edged apron. Jonathan was wearing a tail suit and black tie.
Immediately after the last course, just before the ladies retired to leave the gentlemen to their Port and cigars, Simon's father asked the Butler to bring all the servants back into the dining room. He thanked us for our services that evening and throughout the year. All the family and their guests raised their glasses to us in a toast.
Simon's father then asked for the glasses to be filled again. Once that had been done he announced two engagements: Simon and Emma, a lady from Oxfordshire, and Jonathan and I. I couldn't help blushing at some of the tributes paid to me.
After the dinner Simon and Emma took us two into the library. We toasted each other in champagne, which made Emma and I giggly. Emma kissed Jonathan. I kissed Simon. They kissed both of us as Emma and I stood side by side, arm in arm.
When Jonathan and I set up house in the apartment above the newly built garage, we brought the old chair from the laundry, my old black skirt, aprons and shawl.
We often re-enacted the events leading up to our engagement with Jonathan helplessly bound inside my skirt, sometimes gagged and hooded, and other times smothered between my breasts.
Eventually Emma became aware of what I had done to Simon. I blame Esther, my sister-in-law who had become Emma's lady's maid. Emma had an old long black skirt and several maids' aprons that were often crumpled in the morning.
I know what Emma was doing with them.
Martha's voice stopped. I came to with a start. Why was it dark? It should still be daylight.
"It is. Daylight." Martha said. "Or it would be if your head wasn't inside a long black skirt."
Somehow the old skirt that had been resting across my lap had dropped over my head, trapping me against the chair back. My head was inside the heavy silk lining. As I struggled to free myself I could hear Martha's laughter receding into the distance.