Being Educated by a Countess
Part 1 – The Old Ways Are The Best Ways
© Michelle 2006
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format.
“Laura ! Sophie !” the Countess di Medini shouts out from her well appointed drawing room into the garden. It is a bright summer’s day and the pair are somewhere in the grounds, most probably frolicking under a bush. She is constantly amazed by the situations her pair of nymphs seem to get into despite sleeping with each other every night now.
Of course in the past she would have sent one of the maids to find them but ever since she fitted them with tight hobble skirts this has become a rather drawn out process. But the countless maids waiting on her hand and foot now move so elegantly and slowly that she decided to leave them this way although each room now has a single maid with slightly less restricted step in case of this very situation. Unfortunately she has sent the one for this room to fetch the chief maid, known as One, to her presence. Hence a loud call is required, something she is indeed quite famous for doing.
“Laura ! Sophie !” she repeats just before the two appear in view at the other side of the lawn.
Of course as soon as they see her they stop their rushing and glide elegantly across the lawn in their turn of the century bustled hobbled skirts, this being the Countess’ current favourite style of attire for them to wear. When Sophie had left the convent and the Countess had offered her the position of her assistant, it hadn’t taken her long to offer to model some of the collection of vintage clothing the Countess had collected over many years. Her figure, petite probably due to the bad diet in the convent she had grown up in, was ideal for this and an introduction to corseting soon had her down to a eye-opening sixteen inch waist. Of course the collection couldn’t withstand constant wear but it took less than a second’s encouragement from Sophie’s doe like eyes for the Countess to have any outfit in the collection copied and made to fit her perfectly. And though the slightly larger Laura did object at first, and still makes regular sarcastic comments, the constant stream of begging looks from her lover coupled with the odd clip round the ear, soon had her similarly attired on a near twenty-four seven basis. Her one exception is in bed, Sophie loving to sleep in huge concoctions of frilly satin and lace such that it is a challenge for her lover to even find her sometimes, but for Laura bed means being naked. Though with Sophie insisting on being wrapped round her all night she is usually still quite well covered.
Of course this attire brings their rate of movement right down to a crawl as well, especially as the Countess regularly states that the feet of young ladies should not be seen from under their skirts. Of course this doesn’t seem to apply to older ladies, especially those who own the beautiful chateau they live in and pay for anything and everything they want, but neither has ever raised this point even in a joke. Life in their own period costume drama is idyllic and well worth the odd sacrifice such as not being able to put one foot fully in front of the other when in her presence.
The owner of the chateau watches them as they slowly approach her, she never seeming to grow tired of viewing such sights no matter how long it takes. Ten minutes later they are within a few feet and each drops a small curtsey, something Sophie had done all her life in the convent but the Boston raised Laura finds quite instinctive but still a little humiliating even after all this time. With them still lowered the Countess reaches forward and pulls the small string veils on top of their bonnets over their faces.
“There, that’s much better.”
“Sorree madame.” Sophie apologises, these being new outfits and she hadn’t realised the veil was even there.
Laura had realised of course but hadn’t bothered to mention it as having anything over her face isn’t her favourite occupation. They follow the Countess into the room through the French doors and sit opposite her, their backs kept rigidly straight by the tight corsets Sophie is willingly laced into by her maids each morning and who then directs the maids to force Laura into the same.
“Were you having fun in the garden ?” the Countess asks.
“Oui madame. Our baby is having her breakfast.”
“Uh … what baby ?” for once the Countess is lost for words. Well almost.
“Well she is not real baby. It is Helena. We dress her as baby and put her in the infant carriage.”
“Oh … I see … well actually I don’t.”
Helena is of course the partner of the head maid and was previously a maid herself. But without these duties she now has quite a lot of spare time on her hands. Or at least she did have until today.
“We bend her legs up to the side of her chest then bend the knees again. And her arms are behind her back. This is as small as we can make her to be a baby.”
“Sounds nice and uncomfortable. And her breakfast is ?”
“Milk of course.” Sophie giggles, “We pushed the carriage next to your field of cows so it is easy to get refills.”
“Oh dear, poor Helena.” the Countess giggles as well, “I trust you have fitted her with a fresh nappy ?”
“That’s alright then. I’d better tell my head maid sometime that she might have to rescue her partner.”
“We told her madame. She was most amused.”
“You mean she wasn’t gagged.”
“Oh no madame. But she nodded quite a lot.”
“And what did Helena think ?”
“We did not ask her madame. Do you think we should have ?” “Oh no. I’m sure you didn’t need to do that.” “Thank you madame.”
“Anyway I have called you in here to tell you I have to go to Russia.” the Countess announces.
“Oh good. We wear our Russian gowns.” Sophie claps her hands.
“Uh …” Laura as ever tries to calm her over-enthusiastic lover, “I don’t think we’d look right wandering round Moscow looking like the Tsar’s daughters.”
“Oooo.” Sophie groans.
For a society costume party, the Countess had had copies of the gowns the Tsar’s eldest daughters Olga and Tatiana wore to the Tercentenary celebrations in 1913 and Sophie and Laura had appeared in all the glossy magazines looking just like the ill-fated sisters.
“Well actually I’m going to Saint Petersburg.”
“See.” Sophie squeals, “They ‘ave the palaces there. With grand ballrooms.”
“Yes, but they are all museums now. They might think we are the exhibits !”
“Oui. I would look good there, would I not ?”
“Oh … I suppose so.” Laura shakes her head in mock despair, thankful that Sophie has used the singular in this case, she usually being dragged into things whether she likes it or not.
“Girls !” the Countess quietens the chatter, “I actually said I was going as it’s purely a business trip, but you are welcome to come if you wish.”
“What’s the alternative ?” Laura asks.
“Well you could both do with some more time in the body-training outfits, don’t you agree ?”
“Ah.” Laura suddenly realises a trip to Russia was the better option.
Soon after arriving at the chateau, the pair had discovered that the Countess and five generations of female ancestors had all had their bodies trained and waists shaped when young by wearing a quite brutal set of attire which help them rigidly from head to toe for extended periods of time during which maids would attend to the natural functions as well as tighten their corsets ever more on a daily basis. For reasons Laura still doesn’t understand, Sophie leapt at the chance to try this and once she agreed to carry on doing it for the requisite time dictated by a covenant from over a century ago, the Countess, by now probably too old to ever have her own daughter anyway, offered to adopt the orphan. In due course Sophie will now inherit the title and chateau.
“Oui. That is good idea.” Sophie accepts the suggestion.
“And you Laura ?”
There was no edict on Laura doing likewise of course but without her lover there usually didn’t seem much else to do.
“What are you doing in Russia ?”
“I’m buying a school.”
“Oh.” is all Laura can say, the Countess still able to surprise her even after the more than five years she has known her.
“Do the girls want to be bought ?” Sophie asks.
“How do you know it’s a girls’ school ?”
Neither need reply, the look in Laura’s eyes indicating what they both think.”
“Well yes.” the Countess giggles, “It is a girls’ school. But it’s currently empty.”
“Oh dear. You will fill it soon, oui ?”
“That’s the idea my dear. It’s a wonderful old building that just deserves to be put back to a good use again.”
“So it isn’t a school now ?” Laura asks.
“Oh no. My great grandmother was educated there when she was young. But after the revolution the school was shut and never used again.”
“You mean like in her diaries ?”
“And you want to open up a school like that now ?”
“Oh. Excuse me a minute.” Laura stands up and slowly walks out the room.
On her return she has the diary mentioned in her hand.
“Actually it was the letter, wasn’t it ?”
Sophie and the Countess nod. Laura sits down, pulls the letter out with the two others waiting with bated breathe.
“Shit. I forgot it was in Russian.” Laura groans on looking at the letter.
“It is French.” Sophie giggles, “They spoke that at the Russian court so the best schools copied this.”
“Well you read it anyway.”
Sophie takes the letter and reads it out, translating it perfectly to English as she goes.
I expect you are all wondering what has happened to me since I went away to my new school. On arriving, we all went to our new bedrooms where we were each tethered by a short piece of rope to the next girl. We all must thus move in a long line, which runs from our bedroom through the older girls’ bedrooms and then the single bathroom, then on to the breakfast room into the chapel, then onto the classrooms. Here we remain for our lessons, after which we walk through the other classrooms of the older girls and then onto the dining room before returning to our bedrooms. The rope can be tied to us in a variety of positions, depending on where our teacher feels would be most useful for us. Sometimes it is on our wrists, sometimes on the back of our bonnets. We hear stories of girls having it attached to an earring but we hope this is not true. Pulling the girl behind in this manner would be most painful.
As you can imagine the line forms a very large loop from which we are unable to deviate. As you can probably also see, we as the youngest class get to the washroom, breakfast and dining rooms last, resulting in there being little food left and even less time to eat it before either classes or our evening prayers are due to begin. Not that it is easy to eat much when wearing my training stays. These are far more tortuous than you can possibly imagine.
Only in the chapel and dining room do we get to actually see the older girls, although our tethers prevent us approaching them of course. We can see that every class has waists the same or even smaller than our own, while the rest of their bodies inevitably grow. This makes for some most elegant figures and I truly hope that my own body will grow into such an attractive sight when I am older.
The other parts of their bodies which are kept small are their hands. Members of the older classes appear to have the most elegant long fingers in their tight gloves. We also wear such gloves and I can assure you it is a real strain to fit these over our hands and arms up almost to the shoulders even at our age. I did at first wonder if the elder girls wore larger gloves as theirs only came past the elbow until I realised that once my own arms have grown my gloves will similarly only reach past my elbows.
I assume the older girls feet may also be kept small, although it is of course impossible to ascertain this due to their long skirts. It is regarded as highly improper to ever show ones feet to others outside of the bedroom. And exposure of the frilly stockings covering my ankles would be a most serious misdemeanour. I thus wonder if my footwear will remain the same size as well. This is a little worrying as I am already in great pain almost continually from them, but I am assured by the other girls that the heel will grow by two centimeters each year and so new footwear is required. I do wonder though if the rest of the shoe will increase in size by as much, if at all.
Currently our legs can move fairly freely under our large skirts. Or at least as freely as the many petticoats I am wearing will allow. We do not wear crinolines or other hoops as our headmistress and teachers tell us these encourage one to move too quickly, possibly causing the front of the skirt to lift thereby exposing our legs to view. Even in our multitude of heavy woollen petticoats we make every effort to avoid lifting them off of the floor in case the same fate should befall us. Any girl doing so should of course present herself for punishment as the earliest opportunity.
I understand that next year we will all be fitted with a hobble skirt underneath the same large skirts. This keeps our legs tightly together with just our many stockings separating them even when walking. I do not know how short our step will be but I cannot imagine it will be very long. But when you see the older girls simply gliding around the school it is such an elegant sight that I do not understand why we are not fitted with such skirts now. Perhaps we have to learn other disciplines or prove we are ready to behave in such a beautiful manner.
The older classes also spend much of their time wearing a single glove. The younger class wears the glove with their hands in front of them to get used to a life without hands, but the second have their hands clasped tightly together behind them and secured with a large bow on the back of their beautiful dresses. Each morning the second group have their hair combed back and plaited into a long pigtail originating from high up on the head. They must lean back and allow the other end of the pigtail to be tied onto a ring by their elbows. With their heads drawn back in this manner, they are forced to bend forward at the hips in order to see where they were going, thus forcing their bodies into an extreme S shape which forces their chests forward. It sounds uncomfortable and probably is, but ii looks most elegant. Perhaps one day it may even become the height of fashion, though hopefully not before I have been trained in this manner. These girls also wear a beautiful shawl to emphasis their privilege. They smile at us whenever they spot us looking on enviously, wishing one day to be in their shoes.
But the oldest class in the school is by far the most elegant. When I first saw them in the chapel I believed they had had their arms removed. We all spent many weeks worrying if the same fate was to befall us before our teacher explained that the elder girls have their elbows and forearms tied together behind them with their hands behind their neck. A special corset is then fastened over these and their upper bodies. We all tried to place our arms in such a fashion but it was always highly uncomfortable, if possible at all. Perhaps it is our stays, which we wear at all times, that prevent us achieving this position. You might be able to hold your arms in such a position there at home to see the effect.
Anyway the sight of the elegance of these girls when they glide into a room is to die for. It is this that gives us inspiration to work so hard in our class in the hope that one day we will be like them. I do not know how long they wear their gloves. It is possible they wear them overnight which must be an interesting experience to say the least.
Of course the main reason for wearing a single glove is that it is impossible to do any work, which trains one to use maids properly. But as there are not enough maids in the school, the younger classes must assist them. Each is assigned two younger girls who have to feed them and help dress them. We must clean their shoes spotlessly during the first lesson, then sit at their desks once they have left and take the notes from the writing on the blackboard. As it is impossible for them to clap their hands in applause at a well given lesson, they instead have us spend an hour each evening performing the polite lady-like clap we must make with our glove-sheathed hands. They bring teachers for a quick look, though we of course must continue clapping even when there is nobody in attendance, resulting in constantly sore hands. But most of all, we have to assist them to use their chamber-pot each morning. Only once they are departed for class are we allowed to use the same pot ourselves, after which we put on the lid and have to carry it to classes before we are able to empty it out each evening before we go to bed..
Of course when I mention seeing the other classes, this is only by the standards set in the school We all wear coifs over our hair and around our faces, then a very heavy bonnet is fitted as well. The sides of this extend a long way in front of our faces, and also downwards onto our shoulders and backs. This keeps our head in almost a rigid position with our faces angled slightly downwards. Unable to turn our heads or see to the sides, our vision has become one of looking down a tunnel onto the world. A piece of lace covers the end of the bonnet preventing others looking in on us. I thus still have no true idea what my other classmates’ faces look like, nor they of mine. Our teacher has told us that by the time we leave school, the fashion will be for ladies to keep their faces veiled at all times so that only their husbands and possibly their maids ever get to see their faces properly. I am not sure how she knows what fashion will dictate in the future but it does seem an excellent idea to me.
I am afraid I must go now. I wish you happiness and hope that you will all be as fortunate as myself in being allowed to attend this school when you are older.
Love and best wishes”
“So you’re going to set up a school like this ?” Laura asks.
“Well something along those lines.”
“This I must see.”
“Oh you will.”
“Well at least I can now see why it’s in Russia, not here in Switzerland.” Laura grins.
“Oh I think some countries have taken the wrong route on discipline, don’t you ?”
“Hmm. So what are you going to change from this ?”
“Well I think nowadays the girls should be veiled as well, don’t you ?”
“They should ? Why ?”
“Well where do you think some of my customers will come from ?”
“You mean Saudi and so on ?”
“Of course. Good discipline combined with a good education should have parents sending their daughters in droves, don’t you agree ?”
“Poor sods.” Laura mutters to herself whilst nodding.
“Nothing.” Laura responds. “It sounds like a profitable idea.”
“So why not put it over there then ?”
“Well I don’t want everybody to come from there. I think a school with a good multicultural mix works best, don’t you ?”
“Uh … possibly. So not all will wear veils then ?”
“Oh no. If they all do they’ll learn to respect each other’s beliefs more.”
“So what will they get from us then ?”
“Oh … corsets … hobble skirts … things like that.”
“And canes ?” Laura suggests.
“Oh I think they’re just as expert with those as we used to be before this liberal tendency took over in Europe, don’t you ?”
“Uh … I wouldn’t know.” Laura grins.
“But your sister does.” the Countess reminds Laura of how her own sister Margaret, wife of the British ambassador in a small country called the South Emirate in the Middle East, had by total coincidence met Laura’s sister Stef there. Whereupon Margaret had done what she does best by caning Stef’s bottom.
Not long later, the head maid appears and bows low.
“Ah One, I am visiting Russia and have hired an apartment in Saint Petersburg. I’ll need some assistance there. Would you please arrange for a team of maids to be driven there and to take my clothes with them.”
“You can’t drive all the way to Russia.” Laura splutters.
“Of course you can my girl. There’s nothing in the way that I’m aware of, though it’s quicker to use a ferry to cross the Baltic from Germany than drive around it through Poland and the Baltic states.”
“Oh …” Laura realises her grasp of geography is mostly restricted to the best holiday locations in the USA so she says no more.
“Perhaps you should travel with them.” the Countess remarks.
“I think she means you will go with them.” Sophie giggles, the body-training outfits suddenly not appearing so bad after all.
A few days later Laura sets off in a limousine with blacked out windows with three of the veiled and gagged maids, a chauffer driving them the whole way. And to stop Laura chatting up the chauffer, Sophie has had her lover veiled and gagged in the same manner. It will be a long and quiet journey for the American girl.