What Would Queen Victoria Say?byRichard Donnehy©
"Look at poor Jack Bond,—the best friend I ever had in the world. He was wrecked upon that rock for ever. He spent every shilling he had in contesting Romford ..."
"And what became of him?"
"God knows. I think I heard that he married an old woman and settled down somewhere. I know he never came up again."
Phineas Finn, Anthony Trollope
My dearest Hettie,
When last we were together, you warned me that my unconventional ways would earn me a Reputation. You were speaking of my serving German almond-biscuits rather than scones at afternoon tea. Well, now you shall hear that your Abigail has done something to put herself quite beyond the pale. I only hope that, though you may not entirely approve, you will not think me a complete old fool.
What is this scandal to which I allude? You will recall that prior to my daughter Winnifred's marriage to Mr Benson, she had a number of suitors, among whom was one John Bond, the younger son of Dr Hezekiah Bond of Romford, and a friend of my late son Robert. Handsome as the devil himself, Cambridge-educated, but penniless after putting his meagre funds into an unsuccessful Parliamentary election. Winnifred, I think, dismissed him as an adventurer. Despite the failure of his suit, he continued a regular visitor at Rathesby, to ride with Robert. When dear Robert was killed in India, Mr Bond's continued visits consoled me immensely. You may recall me mentioning him in my letters during those dark days last year. Surprisingly for such a young man, perhaps, Mr Bond always knew just how to speak and behave towards me, reminiscing with me about Robert when I felt the need to give voice to my grief, or maintaining a companionable silence when I did not wish to speak; and then after the worst of the grief had passed, he diverted me with amusing tales of his schooldays, of his brief time in Parliament, and of his scientific researches. Mr Bond is a keen Naturalist, and can surmise the entire geological history of the country roundabout Rathesby just from the examination of a few rocks. I could listen to him expound upon the new theories of Messrs Darwin and Huxley for hours on end. Moreover, he plays the violin most beautifully, whether the latest Mendelssohn compositions or the old English Country Dance tunes of my youth, and I accompany him with the greatest pleasure upon the Pianoforte.
You are wondering by now, are you not Hettie, why this handsome young man has persisted in spending so much time with an old baggage such as myself. I wondered so myself. I credit that his sympathy for my loss was sincere. But as his visits continued, I was not so *naïve* as to attribute his attentions to disinterested Duty alone. Well, I finally told myself, young Jack Bond is clearly a man of spirit and ambition. He wishes to make something of himself, perhaps by returning to Parliament; but ample funds are needed to contest a borough successfully: he must marry money. I am a rich widow. Why should he not marry me and have my fortune? Winnifred is already well provided for, poor Robert died without issue, and I certainly have no wish to leave anything to my late Husband's noisome relations. I have come to feel deep Affection for Mr Bond; he is unfailingly attentive and gallant towards me; and he amuses me greatly. As I say, you must not think me a complete fool. I am under no illusion that a man of twenty-six can have any grand Passion for a woman of fifty-three. He cannot find me *séduisante*, with my grey hair and stout figure. But a marriage of convenience need not be an unhappy marriage. If he realises his dream of an illustrious Parliamentary career, and I secure some pleasant Platonic companionship, I think we can both claim an advantage from the alliance. I am aware, of course, of a Husband's baser needs, which must go unsatisfied in a union such as this. I cannot believe that a healthy young man such as Jack Bond would not feel such needs strongly. I am therefore frankly resolved to allow him such *maîtresses* as he may desire, provided he carries on his amours discreetly.
Seeing that Mr Bond hesitated to broach the topic of his Intentions, I finally dropped a hint, as we women may do, that I would not be adverse to remarrying. He promptly went down on his knee and asked for my hand, with such ardour and gallantry as to quite turn an old woman's head.
The wedding is set for the fifteenth of June, two months hence, at the parish Church here by Rathesby. The Mrs Grundies of the world soon will be shaking their heads and cackling scornfully at foolish old Lady Shipley, wedding a man young enough to be her son. With my wealth and position, I need take no notice of the snubs of the Grundyites. But you are my oldest and dearest Friend, Hettie, and I hope you will not be of their company, even if you do think me a little unwise. Write me a line therefore saying that we shall see you and Lord Riddlestone at the wedding.
Your affectionate friend,
Lady Abigail Shipley
My Dear Frank,
I quite enjoyed reading your amusing account of settling into your new post at Oxford. I cannot entirely approve this defection by another Cantabrigian, but I will allow a fellow must eat, what? Consider yourself a missionary, bringing the light of Cambridge science even to the darkest recesses of the obscurantists' lair.
As for my news: my elders and betters have long counselled me, as you know, to make a place for myself in the world by marrying an heiress; whilst I have steadfastly maintained that a gentleman never marries but for love. Well, I find that I am to marry money after all -- the widow of Croesus himself, Lady Abigail Shipley of Rathesby, N/hants. She is considerably older than me, I must own. To the world, I must appear the basest adventurer, a young fortune-hunter ignoble enough to prey upon a vulnerable old woman. I hope it will appear from what follows that this is not true. I care not what construction Society puts upon our betrothal, but I do care for your good opinion, Frank.
You may recall her son Robert Shipley who was with us at Harrow, subsequently of the Bombay Light Cavalry. He invited me to Rathesby and introduced me to his sister Winnifred, to whom I half-heartedly paid court for a month or two. But if the daughter is a pleasant bauble, the mother, I found, is a priceless pearl! Lady Shipley is a woman of grace, warmth, and wit, not to mention considerable musical talent, and broad reading. When Capt. Shipley perished last year, in the Peshawar Uprising, the loss hit his mother hard, and I felt great sympathy for the noble Lady. The presence of her son's friend at Rathesby consoled her, so she told me, and so I spent much time in her company. We soon achieved an easy communication, a sympathy of feeling between us, that I came to value highly, and that compared so favourably to my experience of ladies my own age. And though she has not the smooth complexion, nor the slender form, of a young woman, which men are supposed to find so alluring, I find a much more compelling sort of beauty in the mature, womanly charms of Lady Shipley's face and figure, though it borders on indelicacy for a gentleman to speak in such terms.
I own that I was not insensible as to how her fortune might aid me in the establishment of my scientific career. But rather than spurring me on to pursue her, this consideration, not to mention our substantial age difference, rather seemed to debar me from any amorous word or gesture toward her. Yet there was something in Lady Shipley's manner toward me, and in certain remarks she made, which eventually gave me hope that my suit might not be met with scorn. Throwing caution to the wind, I at last made love to her, and asked for her hand; and to my delight she accepted my suit. Her marriage to me makes her plain Mrs John Bond, no longer her Ladyship, but she insists that the title is nothing to her.
The wedding is to be on 15 June. I hope that you will be so good as to stand beside me at the altar and bear the ring. I look forward to your making the acquaintance of my Betrothed. When you first meet her, I allow you will be struck by her advanced age, for she is I believe well beyond forty. But once you have conversed with her for five minutes, you will forget all that sort of thing, and simply be charmed by the warmth and sincerity of her character.
Yr constant comrade,
It meant so much to me that you came to our wedding. Jack (I cannot bring myself to refer to him coldly as 'Mr Bond' when writing to you) and I are now settling down happily to married life at Rathesby.
Happily? Yes, so happily that I shall simply burst if I cannot tell you! Jack, Jack, oh my rare and wonderful Jack! I have no Confidante at Rathesby to whom I might unbosom myself on so intimate a topic, and so I must take the risk of committing all this to writing, to share my joy with you. Please burn this note instantly after reading it, for I should be mortified if any eyes but yours should come across it.
I wrote previously that I expected my union with Jack to be unconsummated. You can imagine my surprise when this young man came boldly to my bedchamber upon our wedding night, intending the full exercise of his conjugal rights. At first, I pleaded that such congress was not to be thought of between a man his age and a woman my age. But when I saw how sincere he was in his passion, and how grievously my response wounded him, I at once relented, tearfully begging his pardon; and I enfolded the dear man in my bosom and took him to my bed.
I have not the vocabulary to describe what ensued that night -- and what has continued every night, and many a morning, since. I have been married before, of course, but I never dreamt that marital congress could be so delightful, so bliss-giving, so thrilling, so utterly satisfying to both parties. If it be unladylike to mention such matters, well I have already given up that title. Jack's young body is that of an Adonis. To hold him in my arms, to feel his weight upon me as we lie abed, to receive his hot, eager kisses upon my face and mouth -- and indeed upon every inch of my body -- is unalloyed rapture. I will not speak of Jack's manly part, other than to marvel that it grows nightly into a veritable Club of Hercules, such is this beautiful young man's passion for me. My own body, which I previously regarded as a thing of decrepitude, is such a source of genuine delight to Jack that I find the attitude is catching, and I now begin to take pleasure in its charms as well. Forgive this unseemly boasting on my part, dear Hettie, but can any woman my age claim the like? I except you, of course, Hettie: I know that your marriage to Lord Riddlestone has been a happy one, far happier than my previous marriage to Lord Shipley. Yet I wonder -- can you have experienced these ecstasies of the marriage-bed and never have spoken of them to me, your bosom friend? If indeed aught is lacking in your relations with your husband, I would be only too glad to share with you what knowledge I have gained, that you too might learn to experience this exquisite pleasure. For example, you would be amazed, dear Hettie, at how a husband can please a wife, merely with his tongue -- and I do not mean by reciting poetry to her!
I find that Jack has quite forgotten Parliament, and all his ambitions now concern his career as a Naturalist. This is happy news to me, for a Parliamentary career would have obliged us to take up residence in London during the sessions, and required him to be away from me until late at night for important debates; whereas now we may remain together at Rathesby, which I so love. Jack's scientific research frequently takes him on day-long explores in the surrounding countryside, examining stone formations and hunting for fossils, but he returns home to me every evening by supper. Once supper is finished, unless we have company, we retire to bed quite early, for reasons you can imagine. I find I can assist him considerably in his researches by cataloguing and organizing the samples he collects, and making fair copies of his field notes. He has set up an extensive chemical laboratory in what had been the billiard room, and he has ordered the most powerful microscope available from De Wachter and Sons of Antwerp. He speaks of outfitting and leading a small expedition to collect fossils in the Faeroe Islands and Iceland next summer, and of course I shall accompany him. I am pleased to see my wealth put to such good use. I am ambitious to see him in the Royal Society before too long.
I have not paid attention to the slights of the Grundyites, and I entreat you for my sake to do the same. Jack and I live quietly here at Rathesby (apart from what goes on in our bedchamber), and I expect that within a few months Society will have forgotten about us entirely.
Do visit us again this September. The grouse should be abundant enough to tempt Lord Riddlestone hither, I warrant. And I promise you that, despite what I have written above, I shall not be so preoccupied with my new husband as to neglect your dear company, at least during the hours of daylight.
Your loving *amie*,
Prior to the wedding, you spoke quizzingly to me of making a scientific study of May-December marriages. Though I humorously affected to take offence at the time, I have since concluded that it might indeed be a matter of scientific interest, to better understand counterexamples (such as myself) to the supposed universal male sexual attraction to young (i.e. immediately post-adolescent) females. I have no objection to providing evidence for such a study, trusting that you will refrain from identifying Mrs Bond or me in any monograph you might eventually publish. I therefore write to you now, briefly recounting some of my experiences in these first few weeks of my marriage. I put aside, in the interest of science, a gentleman's normal reserve in speaking of such intimate matters.
In short, I have found my wife's age (which I now know to be fifty-three years) to be no obstacle whatsoever to our marital union: indeed, coition with her has proved to be immensely more pleasurable and satisfying to me, physically and emotionally, than any of my previous amours with younger woman. I own that, up until our wedding night, she had foolishly assumed that due to our age difference, I would not wish to consummate the marriage. She was therefore shocked when I made to embrace her upon our wedding night. But once I showed her that I truly desire her, in every way that a man can desire a woman, her reticence vanished entirely. When at my urging she put off her nightgown, the sight of her body *au naturel*, far from dampening my ardour, inspired in me such a powerful attraction as to keep my prick erect and engorged for three successive spendings; Mrs Bond spent I know not how many times that night, but well over three, judging from her cries of pleasure. My father had warned me that, in his medical experience, women of advanced years often suffer from vaginal drought, requiring the application of a supplemental lubricant if sexual relations be desired, and so I went to her bedchamber that first night with a pot of pomade in hand. But Mrs Bond has no such complaint: when she is aroused, her delectable feminine juices are so copious -- indeed, she often sprays me with fluids as she spends -- that we have found it necessary to put down linen underneath her lest she soak the bed. You may keep all your spindle-shanked maids of twenty, Frank. The manifold womanly charms of my Abigail's mature, ample body I find so delightful to behold, so pleasurable to caress, that I am often quite unable to keep my hands off her -- or my prick out of her. I am indeed fortunate that she seems to take as much pleasure in being touched by me as I take in touching her. Nor is she merely a passive recipient of my amorous embraces. Suffice it to say that her activity in the bedchamber leaves no part of me unsatisfied.
I do not speak here of the deep and affectionate communion of minds that exists between us outside the bedchamber, though this is equally a source of joy to me.
Well, I have bared my soul here to you, writing in such earthy and candid terms of my passion for my beloved Abigail that I fear I have gone too far, even in the interests of science. I would trust such intimate details to no one but you, my dear Frank. Apart from whatever scientific use you may make of this, I felt the need to confide in a male comrade, to speak uninhibitedly of my carnal experience of my wife. For it has truly been so astonishing to me that I must give voice to my joy, if only to confirm the reality of it in my own mind.
Your devoted friend,
I pray that, at your earliest convenience, you might ride over to us at Rathesby. Though your presence here is welcome upon any occasion, in this case I ask you to look in upon Mrs Bond in a medical capacity. She complains of nausea, fatigue, a slight backache, and tenderness of the breasts, and maintains that the symptoms are identical to when she was *enceinte* many years ago. I can scarcely credit that a woman might still conceive at the age of fifty-four, the Book of Genesis notwithstanding. But she assures me that she has not yet gone through the Change of Life, therefore it cannot be ruled out.
Pending your examination of her, I dare hope that she is indeed with child. The impossibility of grandchildren was one point on which you and my mother expressed sorrow regarding our marriage. It would so please Mrs Bond and me to remove this source of your disappointment, not to mention the inherent joy to us of having a child. I must ask you, though, to mention nothing of this to my mother until Mrs Bond's condition be verified.
Yr obedient son,
LADY HENRIETTA RIDDLESTONE
DEAR HETTIE STOP ABIGAIL GAVE BIRTH TUESDAY MORNING TO A HEALTHY BOY STOP SHE IS WELL AND WE ARE BOTH DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY STOP IT SEEMS SHE IS THE OLDEST MOTHER ON RECORD STOP THE LONDON NEWSPAPERS WILL NOT LEAVE US IN PEACE STOP MY FATHER WHO ATTENDED HER SAID IT WAS A RELATIVELY EASY CONFINEMENT STOP THE CHILD IS EIGHT POUNDS TEN OUNCES WE HAVE NAMED HIM ROBERT AFTER HER LATE SON STOP I SHALL MAKE D—D SURE THIS ONE NEVER GOES INTO THE MILITARY STOP THE LITTLE FELLOW HAD NO DIFFICULTY FIGURING OUT WHAT TO DO AT HER BREAST STOP JOHN BOND ESQ