These stories are set in an imaginary land called Gwaliari at the beginning of the 20th century. This land is part of Argentina at the foot of a mountain range. It was settled at the end of the 17th and early 18th centuries by people fleeing religious persecution. There were two such groups: Welsh and Albanian. The settlers from Wales brought with them their Calvinistic Methodism while those from Albania brought the Serbian Orthodox religion but overlain with many of the Muslim customs and practices of their lords and masters, the Ottomans.
At first the two communities stayed separate though living in the same area. In time though they intermarried and their customs got more and more intertwined. No-one can explain how they came to adopt Arabian style leather masks for their womenfolk or quite why they developed a strange trilingual culture in which English was spoken in conversations between the sexes but the women spoke only Welsh among themselves and the men spoke only Albanian.
Naturally, they were not immune to all foreign influences, and corseting and conspicuous dress have become the norm for women, as well as high heels, along with strict restriction of their movements. But although their women are always silent in the company of men they are not gagged: they simply are trained not to speak. There is no punishment if a woman does speak when a man is present, but she will normally feel so shamed that she will punish herself. Most women never speak outside the home. If a husband felt that his wife had been immodest in public he could punish her in ways which did not amount to unreasonable restriction of her freedom – interpretation of which women being severely punished sometimes pondered.
Although all women must by law wear masks and veils from age 14, and women always wear a veil outside the home – and often in it – they do not cover their hair, which is allowed to grow as long as possible and is looked after very well. The aim of a woman is to have the longest and most luscious hair.
Girls begin wearing corsets at the age of ten, and have their arms bound much of the time from the age of 16 or even 14 until their first childbirth. Once a child is born, their arms remain free unless they choose to have their arms restricted as a self imposed punishment. Since this would make caring for children hard, it is rare for women with children under 12 to punish themselves in this way.
Free women normally have their ankles chained outside the bedroom with an eight inch chain. Servants have longer ankle chains, usually 16 inches, so as to permit them to do their duties. In addition their arms are not bound when they are in uniform. Servants can speak when in uniform.
Although it is a patriarchical society, women are well treated. They are allowed to learn subjects such as music and play musical instruments – for which their arms will naturally have to be unbound.
The climate is warm in summer and cool in winter with a good deal of rain in spring and autumn. This has some influence on fashions but does not preclude keeping women generally covered.
Religious practice is a mixture of the Methodist, Orthodox and Muslim practices brought by the settlers.
Although these are the principle governing women in the cities, the government has given the regions considerable freedom, and in particular they can impose further restrictions on the freedom of women as long as they do not conflict with national law or practice. Some regions have grasped this opportunity and women are very strictly limited in their freedom and husbands are expected to punish their wives for inappropriate behaviour – or prevent it in the first place – be means of long term physical restraints.
Ready for church
Caerwen was enjoying the spring sun, sitting in the window of her room watching people passing in the street outside. She would shortly be leaving for church, and most of those she saw were on the same errand. Men walked with their arms around their wives while maids held the hands of smaller children. She could identify many of the men which was as well since all the women wore masks and veils. They drifted slowly by, partly because they had plenty of time and partly because the women were hobbled and in any case the trains of their dresses were heavy. She rarely found the eight inch chain between her ankles a restriction since her bloomers were just as restricting and her train often seemed glued to the pavement and required all her effort to drag behind her. She rather liked the way the bells on her ankle chain jingled as she moved.
But if her maid did not come soon they would be late for church. And without Mair’s help she did not want to navigate the stairs since she could not hold on to the rail, could not see her feet and could not feel the stairs easily in her pattens.
While the pattens were very useful when the roads were wet, the fact that they were fixed permanently to her very high heeled shoes meant that walking was something to be done carefully and preferably with her maid to help her. If only she could use her hands – but she knew that it was considered immoral for a young woman to leave her room without her hands firmly bound behind her back, unless she was specifically working as a maid, such as Mair, and wearing a maid’s uniform.
She heard the door open and raised herself off the seat, sliding sideways. It was simply a padded bar fixed to the side of the window reveal so that she could sit there easily without getting her train tangled up in the legs of a chair. The idea had been her father’s, a very good one. It had taken a few experiments to get the height right, as she could not bend between hips and neck, but these seats were now fitted in most of the bay windows and were very comfortable.
“Are you ready, Ma’am?” asked Mair. Caerwen nodded and walked towards the door. She could have spoken since she was in her room, but there was no need and she was so used to being silent that it sometimes took an effort to speak. She was already wearing her long, tight kid gloves and all she needed was her cloak which Mair lifted off the bed and wrapped round her shoulders, fixing it at the throat, bosom and waist with clasps. It was cut so that it fitted round her shoulders and down to her waist to show off her figure but below that revealed her dress, ending in another train which lay on top of that of her dress.
She was glad she had chosen the red dress as the black velvet cloak looked magnificent with it, though it was very heavy. She wished she could see her bloomers, but her corset and the prominent high bosom it enforced prevented her from seeing anywhere near her feet.
Mair helped her to walk out of the room, guiding her with the ease which comes of much practice, and helped her to find her way down stairs. It was not only the restrictions on Caerwen’s stride and the weight of her trains, but in the gloom of the staircase she could see little through the veil attached to her mask which Mair had flipped down over her face before they left the room. Once they were out in the sun Caerwen would see well enough again.
Mair was glad she did not have to wear either a long train or such high heeled pattens, though the chain between her wrists, decorated like her ankle chain with bells, constantly reminded her that she was not a free woman.
She noticed that Caerwen was wearing black velvet bloomers. They called them bloomers but they were really Turkish style trousers with only about six inches between the two ankle openings. Caerwen’s really looked good with her dress and cloak. Like her cloak, her dress was cut away below her knees to reveal the bloomers, and then swept back to form a train a good three feet long. Mair too was wearing bloomers, but hers were the same dark blue as her uniform dress and her cloak.
When they reached the front door, Mair flipped down her own veil. As a servant there was no need for her to veil in her master’s house, though outdoors the same rules applied to all women. But to ensure it stayed in place when she was working outdoors, her veil had a heavy fabric strip at the bottom edge which contained small lead weights. It was also longer than Caerwen’s, down to her knees, so it swung as she walked. And like the rest of her uniform it was dark blue, though she now hardly noticed the tinge it gave to the scene.
Caerwen‘s father and mother were waiting at the front door along with her sister. Angharad has just started wearing adult clothes styles, and had been wearing corsets for two years but it would be another two years before she had to mask and four before she would wear a hobble chain. Her bloomers were fuller cut that Caerwen’s allowing her steps of about 18 inches, though the high heeled shoes and pattens she was wearing today would ensure that she took steps much shorter than this. She had been nagging her mother about having a train for a long time and this was her first outing. What she didn’t know was that her mother had arranged for a layer of thick leather to be concealed in the train making it far heavier than otherwise. This and the rubberised fabric on its underside to protect it from wet and dirt meant that it weighed about the same as Angharad herself. But so pleased was she that she didn’t even admit that she had any problem with it – though so far she has got only as far as the front door, thought Caerwen who was in on the secret.
Caerwen’s father Driton was wearing his thawb, bisht, agal and ghutra along with black leather boots. He was carrying a bag which Caerwen hoped contained anything she might need during the visit to church. And he too was wearing a mask, but only over his eyes and cheeks. All adult men wore these masks, supposedly to protect them from the sun.
Her mother Nia, who was standing beside Driton, looked really beautiful today, thought Caerwen. Her cloak was dark green over a golden yellow dress and white bloomers. Caerwen noticed that they were not holding hands and wondered if Nia was punishing herself for some supposed misdemeanour by having her hands bound. Caerwen had the impression that her mother rather missed the days before she was born when that had been the norm, and that she was looking for excuses. Provided that her father was not upset there was no problem, of course, as her mother’s maid, Nest, was very good at looking after her even though she had joined the family only three years ago.
Seeing that all the family were ready, Driton puts his arm around his wife so that he could ensure that he did not walk too fast for her and set off. Caerwen noticed that her mother’s veil was considerably thicker than usual. Was this another self inflicted punishment or was she trying to give a message to her husband about her love and obedience?
Mair kept close to Caerwen in case she stumbled but let her go at her own pace. It was a beautiful day and she would have no trouble seeing obstacles. The road was dry and the party was moving slowly – even Angharad who had now discovered just how heavy was her skirt and train. She got herself beside Nest and quietly asked her if trains were always so heavy. Nest was also in on the secret, but being a grown woman would not speak in the street so she just shook her head slightly, leaving the young girl little the wiser. Soon, Angharad realised that she needed all her effort to pull her train behind her. How did her mother and sister make it look so easy?
This was not Caerwen’s thought. She was beginning to wish she had chosen a lighter cloak to go with the heavy dress, not one of her heaviest. But it was too late to worry, and she could cope.
As they arrived at the church door, they could see the Priest in his fine robes. He welcomed them warmly. “It’s good to have all the Berisha family here again I hope Caerwen is fully recovered from her chill.” He shook hands with Driton but not of course with the others – even if Nia was not bound she would not shake hands with a man in public.
Inside the buildings, Driton turned to the left while the women and servants turned right. Because the language difference between the sexes they would attend different services. That for the women would be conducted by a man but translated by an anonymous woman sitting behind a grille nearby. Caerwen never knew whether the sermons were the same, but they always seemed to be about female modesty, obedience and docility, and the duty of the woman to array herself chastely but beautifully. True, there was more exhortation than explanation, but by the time she was 12 she knew the 25 reasons why women wore masks and veils, the 15 reasons for binding women‘s arms and the ten reasons who women should be silent in public. More vague were the explanations of why women wore bloomers which allowed only small steps, why they always had trains on their dresses or why tight kid gloves were mandatory indoors and out.
The first part of the service was effectively joint, as the sound of the men singing was allowed to drift into the women’s area through panels which were opened for the purpose. Although many women were good musicians none would dare to sing in public or their husbands would have to inflict severe punishments on them for their immodesty.
The singing finished, the panels were closed and the service continued. Sometimes the priest sang or chanted, from time to time he swung the incense burner and four times he conducted a one person prayer session. Finally it was time for his sermon – once again on the merits of veiling women. Caerwen knew that when they got back Angharad would start nagging again for a veil even though she had two years before she had to wear one. “All the children at school in my class are wearing them,” she would protest, until her mother got her to admit that there were just two or three out of thirty and then only for parties.
By the end of the service Caerwen was thirsty and rather warm. The day was hot, not unpleasantly so, but so many people together in one room, all of whom were dressed suitably for much cooler weather, meant inevitably that it got very stuffy. She felt much better when they got outside and found father.
Of course the men wanted to chat, but eventually they set off for home, Angharad complaining of being hot and tired. “She probably is,” thought Caerwen, “pulling that weight around. Perhaps it will cut down her nagging.”
Once inside the door, Mair didn’t even wait until Caerwen was in her room before removing her cloak. Caerwen smiled her thanks and drifted towards the dining room. She would be quite happy to perch in the bay window and look at the garden until lunch. There were always so many birds and butterflies. She would have liked to ask about them but did not. Her father was strict about his children following the traditional customs. She would have to look for a book in the library and get Mair to help her read it. Within minutes Mair brought her a drink of fruit juice and held it so Caerwen could drink. “She can almost read my mind,” thought Caerwen.
When lunch was served she realised that she was quite hungry and happily moved into the dining room. Mair helped her to sit – not nearly as easy on a dining room chair as her train had to be arranged carefully at one side. She of course could do nothing, and Mair herself found it difficult as she was just as tightly corseted.
Mair then stood behind her and fed her the various courses. Caerwen never spoke but Mair seemed to know when she wanted a drink of the excellent wine. Not that she ate or drank much – there was little room for food when she was so tightly laced. But the ladies would return to the table in mid afternoon and have another light meal.
Father seemed to be in a very good mood, even though Angharad was already nagging about being veiled. In the end he relented. “You can wear the veil your mother wore this morning as long as you also wear the cloak you wore to church.” Caerwen suddenly understood why her mother’s veil today had been so thick!
Angharad made a face. “Why do I have to wear the cloak too? It’s too heavy.”
“If you want to practice being a lady you must go the whole way,” her father explained. “Of course, it is up to you,“ he continued, trying to give his daughter a let-out. Angharad dithered, torn between being able to veil and having to drag around the heavy train. “OK, I’ll try it,” she said, looking rather worried.
“There’s one more condition,” interjected her father. “Ladies have their arms bound and their ankles chained. I think you should too, to complete the effect.”
Angharad looked crestfallen, realising that her father had outwitted her again, but she nodded and said quietly “I suppose you are right, father.”
“Of course women don’t speak,“ pointed out her father, trying to suppress a smile – Caerwen was glad her mask hid hers. Angharad hung her head.
“So from now until after breakfast tomorrow you are going to be treated as an adult. But you must also finish your homework. Let me know how you enjoy your time,” said her father, getting up.
Caerwen and Nia also decided it was time to make their escape. Suddenly, an afternoon sitting quietly in the garden in the sun with their maids seemed a very attractive idea. Caerwen wanted to find out why Nia’s arms were bound, but that would have to wait. In any case, she suspected that the “punishment” was far too serious for the “crime”.
Mair was excited to be visiting her family. It was the first time for a year, and her sister was getting married so she had been given a whole two weeks by her master Driton. She was glad though that they has allowed plenty of time to get to the station. As a maid she was used to being able to walk fairly easily, but now she was off duty for two weeks she was wearing the clothes of any other women. In particular, her bloomers and eight inch ankle chain allowed her only a six inch stride instead of the sixteen inches she was used to, and her pattens were much higher heeled than those she wore for work.
She was used to dragging a train after her but she had forgotten how much more difficult it was to balance with her arms bound behind her back.
But no matter, Driton had insisted on seeing her safely on the train to her village, and was watching to catch her if she tripped. When they entered the station ticket office she realised another reason why she could not have done the whole journey alone. Forbidden to speak in public she could not have requested her ticket and in any case with her arms bound she could not have taken it from the clerk. But Driton dealt with all that, putting the ticket in a small pouch which he hung round Mair’s neck. He then guided her from the gloomy booking hall onto the platform where her train was waiting. The carriage door was open, and it was easy to step in, as the train designers had allowed for women’s small strides. Driton guided her to a seat in the open coach facing the direction of travel. His last act was to produce a bottle of drink and a straw, open the bottle and insert the straw, placing the drink where Mair could reach the straw to drink. She knew it would be tricky to get the straw under her veil, but that was something she had done many times.
“Your train goes in two minutes so I had better go. Yours is the fourth stop and your father is meeting you. I look forward to seeing you in two weeks and hearing all about the wedding.” Mair nodded her thanks and he turned and left.
Mair was glad he had counted the stops as she was unlikely to be able to read the station names: Pont Math, Aber Drinibard, Crucsi Goch and Blainlugin, her stop. She knew that after that the line passed through a tunnel into the next valley but she had never travelled that way.
Just before the train started a man and woman came and sat opposite her. They obviously had teenage children as the woman’s hands were free, though Mair noticed that her veil was very thick. She wondered if the woman could see anything at all. Some husbands insisted that their wives veiled heavily once they no longer had children to look after and therefore their hands were not bound. Then Mair noticed that the woman’s hands were closely chained, though unlike her servant chain there were no bells. Perhaps the woman was being punished for some family misdeed – or as Mair had heard whispered perhaps it was simply that her husband liked to keep her helpless and therefore dependent on him.
By now the train was approaching the first station. Mair noticed that the sun was shining on the big bridge in the centre of the village, making the stone sparkle. Just then her peace was interrupted by the ticket collector. Seeing her pouch he took out the ticket, punched it and return it. “Many thanks, ma’am. Have a nice journey,” he said in English, moving on to the next coach.
At the station a woman and a girl boarded, helped by a man who then got off, as Driton had done. The girl’s face was completely covered by a red mask which seemed to have no openings. Mair had heard about such masks, and had seen red masks but not one like this. She knew that wearing a red mask was the punishment of the court for girls who were found on the streets unmasked. This was evidently the one for a second offence. It had just one small opening through which the wearer could drink, and also covered the wearers ears with padding which itself ensured that the wax filling the ears could not be removed. The standard sentence was three months, during which time the mask was never removed. Mair was not sure but she seemed to remember that it also held a gag in the wearer’s mouth. It was a very severe punishment, but it had been explained to her that it was meant to ensure that the miscreant never went out without a mask again. A friend of Mair’s had once been sentenced to wear a red mask but as it was a first offence the mask was less severe and did not cover the wearer’s mouth or ears, though she could see only through a series of pinholes. Her friend had had to wear it for a month. And she had heard that for a third offence the punishment was even worse, as the wearer had to wear a red mask continuously until her marriage. She had seen a picture of such a mask in a book and it seemed similar to the one her friend had worn though coming down to her chin with a small oval opening at the mouth. Mair was certain she never wanted to wear a red mask of any description.
The woman guided the girl to a seat in the next bay of the coach and sat beside her where Mair could no longer see them.
The next station was at the junction of two valleys and Mair could see the river slowing down the side valley, sparkling and white. At the mouth of the side river it was crossed by a bridge, much smaller than that in the last village and brick instead of stone. The village was definitely smaller than the one her family came from.
But suddenly seven girls invaded the coach. One seemed to be dressed as a servant and was helping the others, but they were all very strangely dressed.
One was in an outfit which seemed to have been copied from the portrait of Queen Elizabeth of England at the time of the Spanish armada. At first, Mair could not see any sign of her arms, but then realised that they were concealed in the enormous ruff around the girl’s neck and behind her head.
Another girl was all in white, rather like a wedding dress but with an opaque white closed cloak covering everything and falling to the ground. At eye level were two openings which seemed to have behind them a layer of fine white material, presumably giving the girl some view out. She had a train twice the length of any Mair had seen before.
A third girl was all in black. It looked like one continuous piece of fabric which was wound round her starting at her shoulders, down to her ankles, between her feet and up to her head where it formed a long veil. Mair did not think the girl could see very much as the material was quite heavy and opaque.
The next girl was wearing what seemed to be a series of brown tubes. One covered her from shoulders to feet and two others covered her arms, while a fourth concealed her head. Where they joined brown fabric was formed onto bellows shaped joints. A similar bellow joined the ends of the two arms behind her back. But as far as Mair could see the tubes were rigid, so the girl could not bend her arms or her body. At first it looked as though the tube covering her head had no openings but when she turned Mair saw a series of vertical slits in front of her eyes and another where her mouth would be.
The fifth girl was dressed all in vivid green. The basic outfit seemed to fit close to her body and head all over, including her face, hands and feet. Over that she wore a long, closely fitting dress with a quite conventional train. Her arms were by her side and she never moved them, so Mair decided that the sleeves must be sewn to the side of the dress. In addition to her train, she had a long veil which was fixed at her forehead and swooped back over her head and down her back, lying on the train and extending beyond it by at least three feet.
Finally, a girl dressed in blue and white came into the carriage. She was wearing a very short and full blue and white check dress which seemed to have dozens of petticoats, all of which showed when she moved, and had an enormous white bow in her hair. Attached to her shoulders were enormous wings like those of a butterfly. Instead of the usually style of mask she had a full face mask painted with the features of a young girl. Her legs were covered with white stockings and her shoes were white with blue blows. At first it looked as though her arms were not restrained, but the way they flopped around made Mair suspect that they were not her real arms, which were hidden somehow by the wings.
All but the girl in brown sat down with the help of the “maid”, whom Mair noticed was not dressed the same way as she was when on duty. She, too, was wearing a full face mask, though painted to look like a china doll, and instead of a chain her wrists were linked by a white rope. Her skirts were very full and seemed to conceal numerous petticoats.
The man opposite Mair had evidently seen her amazement at the sight she had just seen. “They are art college students who are about to finish their course in costume design. For their final project they have to design and make a costume and then wear it in public for two weeks, recording their problems and the reactions of people. We see similar sights every summer, but I have to admit that this lot are pretty extreme.”
The train moved on through fields and woods. Birds flew above. Mair realised that she never saw these sights in the city. Life was comfortable and she was looked after well as a servant but she would not want to spend all her life away from the countryside.
At the third station the girl with the red mask and the woman with her were met by an elderly man who helped them off the train. It was evident that the girl was almost completely helpless, unable to see, hear or speak, unable to use her arms to help her and able to take only small steps. Mair resolved never to be seen out without a mask.
The fourth station was reached after about forty minutes. Mair got up and eased towards the train door. There were not many passengers now so she was just second in line when the train stopped. When the door was opened she could see her father though he was not sure he had recognised her. It had been a year and she had different clothes. But as she carefully stepped onto the platform he rushed forward and embraced her. “Lovely to see you. Are you well? Was it a good trip? Are you hungry?”
The seven girls followed Mair out of the train and headed for the exit, guided by the “servant”. It was obvious that some of them could see very little. The girl in brown could take only minute steps because of the size of the tube around her legs, and the girl in green was having great difficulty with her train and veil which seemed to catch on any slight roughness and pull her head back sharply.
Mair’s father had noticed the girls and started to comment on their clothes, but stopped, realising that Mair was not going to answer until they were home. He changed the subject: “Your sister from Aber Drinibard arrived yesterday and your brothers are both coming tomorrow. We shall have a full house but it will be wonderful all to be together again.”
By this time they had left the station and were walking down the village’s main street. Mair noticed that there had been a few changes in the last year – shops had changed hands, one or two buildings had evidently been demolished, and it seemed poorer than she remembered. It was certainly dusty and the pavement was not as smooth as those in the city, so dragging her train was hard work. Her father was evidently used to her mother’s slow walk and made no attempt to hurry.
She then noticed that the woman walking slowly in front of her had a ball and chain attached to her ankle chain. It was obviously heavy as she was struggling to pull it along. Her father noticed that she had seen the woman.
“You may not have heard, but when the government started its decentralisation processes the local council enacted a law that men could punish their wives and daughters by restraining them if they felt that they were not behaving suitably. Many men have done so. You can now buy all sorts of restraints. The ball and chain is quite popular, and can be bought in all sorts of weights including some heavier than the wearer. I suspect that the woman wearing the ball and chain went out without her husband’s permission.
Then coming towards them slowly Mair saw another girl in a severe red mask like the one she had seen on the train. She was walking very slowly and awkwardly, guided by a middle aged man who Mair recognised.
“That’s your cousin, Anwen and your uncle Fisnik. Anwen is a real tearaway. I am surprised it took so long for her to be caught twice without a mask. Now she has two months to go in that one. She can’t see, hear or speak. But her family have decided that they have had enough of her bad behaviour so they have also fitted her with a very severe set of restraints and have told her that she will wear them until she is married. She has a heavy rod which is riveted to a collar and to a heavy chastity belt so she cannot bend at the waist. But it also projects down almost to her ankles and is connected at the bottom to her ankle chain, so she can’t bend at all or sit and it is hard for her to walk. See how slowly she is walking. You will see her at the women’s party.” Then, “Hi, Fisi. How are you? Is your daughter behaving herself?” “I’m very well,” answered the man. I can‘t answer for Anwen but she is certainly behaving herself better,” he laughed, “not that she has much choice.” He then continued in Albanian and the two men chatted for a few minutes. Mair could understand odd phrases but the conversation seemed to be about local politics so she stopped trying.
They said their goodbyes and Mair and her father continued towards home. They turned into Mair’s road and she could see the house. It was smaller than she had remembered, and needed a coat of paint. But in the doorway she could see several members of her family waiting to welcome her.
When she arrived she was surrounded by her family but only her father could speak in the street so he ushered them inside. As soon as she was through the door he removed her cloak. “I think you women had better have some time to talk. I am going into the garden to look at the vegetables and will come back in at four. Until then you can talk all you like.”
And talk they did, though apart from the servant girl no-one could do very much with their hands bound. And bound they would be for most of Mair’s visit because of the number of visitors in the house.
All too soon four came round, and Mair’s father knocked at the door before entering, to tell the women that time for talking had ended. Mair had heard all about her cousin’s disobedience and atrocious behaviour, but still couldn’t help feeling that the punishment was very severe. But she learned that even her mother Bronwen had spent some time dragging a ball and chain around. The local council felt that its new law was a great success and was proposing to extend the freedom of men to discipline their womenfolk. It had even been proposed that all women should in future be gagged in public, and one councillor wanted all women permanently blinded by their masks. His argument was that with their arms bound they could do little useful so they did not need to be able to see. So far, his idea had received little support, though the gagging proposal looked like being implemented, even though it was very controversial.
After being the one who helped other women, Mair found it rather irksome having to wait for the servant girl to help her with everything. She couldn’t imagine how awful it would be also to be blind, though she knew that when her sister was collected for the wedding she would have her head completely in a mask much like that her cousin was wearing. But that was only for a few hours, until her new husband released her – though Mair had heard stories of new wives being kept covered for several weeks, and knew that in the distant past in some villages the new wife had been kept completely bound and covered until she conceived.
The next day dawned fine and warm with just a slight breeze. As wedding clothes were always very warm to wear, Mair hoped that her sister would not be too uncomfortable.
The party today started at three so after lunch the men left and the women were helped into their finery by the maid whose job was made easier by the women having the use of their hands for the party.
All the women were dressed in their best. Mair had bought a new dress for the occasion, yellow with red decoration to set off her black hair. The train was about ten feet long but that was much shorter than her sister’s.
Today, the bride was by tradition wearing an elaborate, very full green dress and a green mask, along with green Turkish style trousers. The dress included a headdress decorated with real flowers which had been picked in the garden that morning. She was not wearing her usual mask, but the headdress included a section covering her forehead. From this dangled ribbons and delicate chains, which covered her face but did not prevent her seeing, speaking or eating. Attached to the chains were small bells which tinkled as she moved. Further chains decorated her ankles and wrists, and these also carried bells as did the chain between her ankles and one between her wrists. Her green shoes did not have pattens attached but instead had built up soles and heels fully fifteen inches high.
The party went on until late in the evening, by which time all the women were exhausted from dancing, talking and eating. As the clock struck ten, the maid rang a bell to call attention. “Please bid goodnight to the bride,” she announced, leading her out of the room. After that, the other women gradually retired to a room to change into outdoor clothes and return home, to rest for the morrow.
The next day the partying started immediately after lunch, so the ladies were dressed by midday. Mair wore the same dress – she could not afford more than one new one – but over it wore a large red shawl which matched the red decoration of her dress, and matching red bloomers. She arranged her hair carefully and added a simple tiara like decoration, also in red.
The company was much the same as the previous day, though initially without the bride. After the women had been chatting about half an hour the door opened and her cousin shuffled in very slowly, guided by her mother. She too was wearing red, but it was simply a cloak which covered her from her neck and reached the ground, concealing everything underneath until she turned and Mair could see a bulge where her cousin’s arms were bound side by side between her shoulder blades.
As Mair had not seen her aunt for well over a year she went over and greeted her. She was not sure whether to greet her cousin, but remembering what her father had told her about her cousin’s mask she didn’t bother. Her cousin gave no sign that she knew Mair was there.
“Don’t worry about Anwen. She’s not being rude. She can’t hear or see you, and is gagged anyway. And her restraints make sure she doesn’t run away.”
Mair’s aunt took Mair’s hand and guided it to touch Anwen’s neck. Mair could feel the wide iron collar with the rod fixed to it. Her aunt guided her hand down, allowing Mair to feel first Anwen’s bound hands, then her iron enclosed waist and hips.
“Her chastity belt is all iron and also acts as her corset. It can be adjusted as her waist gets smaller. When it is fully closed she will have a waist of fifteen inches with a four inch stem. That should attract a husband for her, though he will need to be a determined man as Anwen has a very strong will and hates our customs.”
Mair was horrified at the cruelty of Anwen’s punishments, but felt she had better say nothing, so she asked after her aunt’s health and they chatted about other things until stopped by a servant clapping her hands for attention. It was time for the bride to make her entrance. Today her dress was a vivid blue, she wore a blue headdress and her train was fully 20 feet long, overlain with fine white lace. Mair couldn’t be sure but she thought her sister’s heels were even higher than the day before. Certainly she walked into the room very slowly and erectly and then spent most of the time standing still with her maid close by.
The chatting resumed and food was brought in by maids who circulated around the guests. Mair noticed at one point that her aunt was helping Anwen to drink from a glass with a straw.
Then the dancing began. Mair had been told that it was customary for all the guests to dance with the bride some time during the evening, so she waited for a time when her sister had had a few minutes rest and approached her.
“Would you like to dance?” she asked, thinking that it was probably an unnecessary question.
“I’d love to, but don’t expect me to go very far very fast. This train is so heavy, and my feet are killing me in these shoes. I feel as though I am standing on the tips of my toes.”
Mair looked down. “That’s because you are,” she laughed. “I’ll try to help you balance. Hold my hands.”
They danced for two tunes after which Mair felt that her sister must need a rest even if she was not by custom allowed to sit. She guided her sister to where her maid was waiting.
“Look after my sister, won’t you,” she said, turning to the maid who made a deep curtsey in reply.
“My maid is being punished today for waking late this morning. She isn’t permitted to speak or sit down for twenty-four hours,” explained Mair’s sister. “That was my mother’s decision, not mine. I couldn’t be so cruel to her as she looks after me wonderfully.”
Mair and her sister chatted a little longer and then Mair moved on to let other guests talk to the bride. As the previous evening, eventually a maid signalled that the party was ending and Mair’s maid guided her from the room.
The third day’s celebrations were rather different. To ensure that the bride was as spectacular as possible, all the guests wore modest black dresses and bloomers, and covered their hair with black scarves, though many of the women had hair so long that it cascaded below their scarves. And the partying didn’t start until late afternoon. When Mair arrived her sister was already seated on a throne like chair in the centre of the room. She was dressed all in white with a train which made the previous days’ effort seem short, even higher heels and an elaborately decorated veil which covered her head and fell to her waist. Through it Mair could see that her sister was wearing a white mask which covered her face and ears completely and had no openings, not even at the mouth. From what Mair’s father had told her, she knew that her sister could not see, hear or speak.
Around the bride the party went on with food and dancing. Mair wondered what her sister was thinking. Probably she was preparing herself for the wedding night. Then just as the sun was setting four men came into the room. All the women turned to face the wall so that the men would not see their faces. The men went to the centre of the room and guided the bride to her feet, helping her off the dais on which the seat was placed and guiding carefully her out of the room.
As soon as they had gone the partying continued, as though the bride was not an important part of the event. Mair knew that her sister was being taken first to the church for the vows to be said – on her sister’s behalf by her father – and then to the civil offices where the certificates would be signed, the bride’s hand being guided to the right places. At both places photographs would be taken which the bride would later see. After that she would be taken to the groom’s house. What happened then would be up to the groom. Mair was sure here sister would tell her some day.
Gradually the guests left until it was just family members. Mair’s father spoke outside the door. “OK ladies, time to get back to normal. Bed now, masks and bound arms tomorrow please.”
Next morning Mair had to submit to the same restrictions as the others, and again she was glad she would soon be returning to her work as a servant. She was feeling so sorry for herself that it took some time to notice that her aunt had an iron shackle on each wrist, with chains dropping to the floor.
Noticing Mair’s attempt to look discreetly at the floor to see where the chains were fixed, her uncle spoke.
“I’m afraid your mother is being punished today. Her punishment is for a month but I let her off for the wedding. Show Mair your chains dear.”
Mair’s aunt bent and lifted from the floor two iron balls about four inches in diameter.
“The balls each weigh about fifty pounds so they are a reminder but not too heavy,” said Mair’s uncle. Mair could see that her aunt didn’t agree but with men present she was not going to say anything. It was presumably her uncle who had chosen her cousin’s restraints, so he was obviously a very hard man. She must ensure she didn’t displease him.
After breakfast Mair’s uncle brought her cousin into the room and stood her against a wall. Her uncle and aunt simply ignored the girl, though Mair realised after a bit of thought that there was no point in them doing anything else unless she was being moved around. But the sight of her horrified Mair: a still, silent, shapeless red object. How could her cousin bear it?
All too soon the round of visits to friends and relatives was complete and Mair was on her way to the station, accompanied again by her father. The return journey would be a little more difficult as she would have to make her own way from the station to her employer’s house. Her father saw her safely on the train but did not offer her a drink. Mair realised just how thoughtful her employer was.
The return journey was almost uneventful, except when a man and woman sat opposite her at the first station stop. Mair noticed quickly that the woman’s arms were bound even though she was obviously old enough to have a family. This might be her own choice, but the waist length, completely opaque veil she was wearing would certainly not be. The woman seemed to manage perfectly well, and sat quietly and still throughout the journey. At Mair’s stop, the man helped his wife up and ushered her out of the carriage. As they walked ahead of her Mair noticed the lump at shoulder level in the woman’s veil which showed where her hands were. No she would certainly not have chosen that punishment. Then the woman stumbled and Mair saw on her ankles thick, heavy iron shackles. So this was how men in the villages now treated their wives. She decided then and there that she would keep her job as a servant as long as she could, even if it meant that she never married.
I always prepare carefully for shopping trips, because it is so hard to change my mind when I am in a shop.
I have written a description for Mair of what I want to buy and where, in as much detail as possible. Now she is preparing me for the trip so I will not be able to speak to her, or cannot use my arms, which will shortly be bound behind me. In addition my mask and veil will make it hard for her to judge what I am thinking. But that is normal for a woman in Gwalaria. I am getting used to it. Now my arms are bound, she is fixing my red cloak over my shoulders. Next she will ensure that my hair is outside the cloak, and she will then fix my veil so it completely covers my face.
The list today has three things, and it will take some time to buy them all. The first is a new skirt. I desperately need something in the latest fashion as I feel quite out of date in my present outfits. I have cut out some examples from catalogues which have come from Europe, and I hope we can find something I like. My existing skirts are all full, but this season the fashion is for narrow skirts which have lots of flounces at the ankles. I don’t know what colours we will find but I fancy something in deep blue or green.
The second item on the list is new pattens. All my friends are now wearing pattens with high heels, at least three inches higher than the soles. I have never worn anything like this but I am determined to try and to succeed. But they need to go with the new skirt so they will have to wait until the skirt is found.
The third thing is a new cloak. This year everyone is wearing ground length cloaks but mine are both knee length and so “last year“. But I want to wait until I have found some pattens so I know how long it needs to be.
Mair comes in and opens the door for me. The cloak is really pretty but suddenly it is out of fashion. She guides me, as I can see a little but here in the drawing room it is hard to make out details.
“Are you ready?” she asks me. I can see she has my instructions in her hand so I nod and we head for the street. Of course, Mair has to open and close the doors for me. But she is used to her tasks as a personal maid, and at least has the use of her hands and is not forbidden from speaking in public – in fact I am not forbidden, but no respectable woman would ever speak when veiled.
We walk slowly to the centre of the city, my steps restricted as always by the chain linking my ankles. Almost all the young women I see are dressed in this year’s fashions. I feel really out of date. This trip has not come too soon. When we arrive in the high street Mair opens the door of a ladies’ fashion store and we enter. She finds a shop assistant and discusses with her my requirements for my new skirt. The assistant indicates for me to sit and she and Mair disappear, returning a few minutes later laden with garments. They lay them out on the counter so I can see the styles and colours. There is a really beautiful dark green velvet skirt with white lace flounces. I stand facing it so Mair knows I like it, and she takes it and drapes it over a chair. Another skirt which takes my eye is in bright blue satin, rather showy but really beautiful as it reflects the light. Mair puts this one with the green one. And I am also taken by a really beautiful cream satin skirt which has several rows of matching ruffles and a short train. I know it is quite impracticable but I really must try it. But it takes a while for Mair to realise that I want to try it on, because it is nothing like the description I gave her.
The shop assistant picks up the three skirts and leads us to a dressing room. Mair helps me to remove my skirt and the several petticoats which help it stand out. She helps me slip on the green skirt. It is beautiful and very elegant but a little tight over my hips, even with my corset laced tight. I shake my head and she helps me remove it and try the blue one. It fits beautifully but when I turn round to see myself in the mirror I realise that it is really very narrow at the ankles, so I can make only very short steps, much shorter than my ankle chain allows. But presumably this is the lot of all the women out there who are wearing this style.
I decide I will buy this skirt, but I still want to try the cream one. When Mair helps me take the blue skirt off, she at first fetches my petticoats, but I turn away and stand in front of the chair holding the cream skirt. Mair understands and I am soon looking at myself in the mirror. It fits perfectly, and is really beautiful. Now I am not wearing pattens it just touches the floor at the front and there is about a foot of train at the back. It is even tighter at the ankles than the blue one, but I am determined to buy it. I turn to Mair and nod vigorously. She understands and helps me take it off. Now I stand facing the blue skirt to tell Mair that I want to wear it. She is surprised and asks me directly, but when I nod she accepts my decision and I am soon leaving the dressing room. The sales assistant is waiting. Mair pays for the two skirts and asks that my old skirt and petticoats to be wrapped.
Now for the pattens. The skirt is taking some time to get used to, and we progress very slowly. Somehow it seems that now I am wearing pattens my steps are even smaller than in the shop. Mair eventually stops me outside a shoe shop and points to some pairs of pattens in the window. However, my eye is caught by some very unusual pattens further down, so I move so I can see them clearly. They are unlike anything I have seen worn here. Instead of two wooden crosspieces under the sole and heel there is a thick oval piece under the ball of the foot and the toes, and it is covered in the same glossy black leather as the upper part. And instead of the bar at the heel there is a slim tapered post, also covered in black leather. They look beautiful, much more elegant than regular pattens, but I am sure they must be very hard to walk in. Nevertheless, I am hooked. I stand in front of them until Mair notices what I am looking at. She asks me, sounding very surprised: “Do you want to try those pattens? They are very unusual.” I nod.
She opens the shop door and we enter. An assistant approaches and Mair explains our mission. The assistant exclaims when Mair tells her that I want to try on the black pattens – “Oh, they are brand new in, but we are selling lots of them. I think they will be all the rage this summer. As well as black we have them in several colours.”
Mair looks at me: “Do you want to try them in blue or cream?” I nod vigorously, and the assistant scuttles off, coming back in a few minutes with several boxes. The first pair is in a blue colour which almost matches my skirt, but they are rather tight. The second pair is a slightly darker blue, and they fit much better. But then she produces a cream pair exactly the same colour as my new skirt, and I know they are what I want, however, hard they are to walk in. And they fit really well. I stand and stagger, not used to the height of my heels above my toes. Mair catches me and helps me to walk round the store. After a while I can manage without her help, though my calf muscles are aching. But the pattens are so, so beautiful. I know I must have them.
Mair has understood me, but checks. “Do you really want to buy these? They are very expensive. With the two skirts you bought, you won’t have any money for a cloak.” I nod as hard as I can and sit so the assistant can take the shoes off and put my pattens back on. I couldn’t walk home in them. I will need a lot of practice in the house before I can wear them outside.
Mair pays and takes the bag from the assistant, then opens the door for me. We walk slowly home. I know that when I am wearing my cream skirt and new shoes I will be even slower but I also know that I will feel so beautiful I won’t care. I’m sure my mother will be horrified by my purchases, but it is my allowance I am spending. My red cloak will have to last a bit longer, but it has the advantage that it will not cover my beautiful new cream skirt and pattens.
Walking in the park
Today is the day. I have been practicing in my new skirt and pattens for three days now and am ready to go out. I have told Mair my plans, and she is just coming to get me ready. I have chosen a white blouse with ruffles on the sleeves and more around the bust which accentuate my bosom nicely.
Mair is surprised when she sees what I am wearing.
“Do you want to go for a walk in that skirt, mistress? You will be very slow.”.
I assure her that I am aware of that and we have plenty of time, so she ensures my mask is properly fixed, binds my arms behind my back, drapes my red cloak over my shoulders, ensuring that my long black hair is outside it, and carefully puts my veil over my face.
Now will be the challenge. I have been downstairs in these clothes several times, and now feel fairly confident, but I have not done it without my hands to help or wearing a veil. I can see, but not very clearly in the dim light of the stairs.
I must have hesitated at the top of the stairs, as Mair is quickly at my side, helping me as I reach for the next step, just about able to reach it if I stretch as far as my skirt will allow. Once on the step, I shuffle forward and repeat the process, until I am standing safely by the front door.
I see that Mair has my handbag. She opens the door and waits for me to pass through. This is even more difficult than the stairs as the step is higher, but I manage it without needing Mair’s support, even though I am glad of her arm round my waist, She closes the door and we set off.
The park is very close, but we need to cross one road, and I know I shall take some time, so we walk towards a place where there is an island in the middle. There is little traffic, just a couple of delivery carts and a bus. As the sound of the horses’ hooves recede I take courage and head for the centre of the road. I am glad I chose this spot because just as I reach the island a cab comes furiously round the corner, the horses foaming at their mouths as they are urged on by the driver. If I had been in their way there is no way I could have moved in time. But soon we are entering the park.
It is a beautiful day, with a few clouds in the sky, birds singing in the trees and the sun shining warmly. I am not the only young woman taking a walk in the park today. In fact it feels quite crowded, though it is very quiet of course, since none of us young ladies will utter a word and our maids will not speak unless they need to.
After a while we reach the lake, and I indicate to Mair that I would like to sit and watch the ducks which are swimming around and gathering in the vain hope of being fed. The seat is quite low and I am glad of Mair’s help as I sit. But my stays are threatening to dig into my legs and I have to sit up absolutely straight to avoid discomfort. I am surprised however how tight my skirt feels now. I ease my feet forward until they are resting on the tips of the rear posts of my pattens. This is much more comfortable.
Suddenly the ducks take off for the other side of the lake. I glance over and see that a woman and a small girl are throwing food for them. I decide I would like to walk round to that side so I can see better, as even in this bright light my veil makes things indistinct at any distance.
Now I find a problem. I carefully bring my feet back towards the seat, ignoring the pain of my stays, but I cannot get enough purchase to stand. I try twice and then rest, hoping Mair will have noticed and help me, but she is evidently watching the ducks being fed. I try twice more, feeling rather foolish and hoping no-one notices.
Eventually Mair does notice my plight and grips my shoulder to help me up. Even so we take three tries before I am standing, breathless and trying to get my body in a position where my stays are comfortable. Mair waits for me to move, so eventually I turn and start to walk in the direction of the woman and child.
Of course, I am so slow that by the time we arrive there they have finished feeding the ducks and the birds are heading back across the lake. So we continue walking. I am looking at what other young women are wearing. My skirt is certainly in fashion, though I think it is probably the tightest in the park. I see a couple of other women wearing pattens like mine, but they are not as nice as mine. I am very pleased with my outfit, even if it is difficult to wear at times. My mother says it was a waste of money but as I see others in the park I know it was the right decision.
Suddenly I notice coming towards me a woman in a red mask. It covers her complete face and seems to have no holes for the woman to see. Despite myself I cannot help gasping and turning to look as she is guided past Mair and me by her maid. Mair notices my amazement and leans close to me.
“The woman is wearing a severe punishment mask. She has obviously been in trouble with the courts several times. She can’t see or hear and is also gagged. I think the normal sentence is three months, but I’m not sure. But it must be very unpleasant.”
“When I visited my family for the wedding last month, my cousin was wearing a mask like that. I was told that she had been caught outside the house on her own without a mask twice by the police. She seemed to be completely helpless. My uncle guided her everywhere and when he didn’t want her to move he stood her against a wall and she just stood there. It must be an awful punishment, though I know my cousin was a real tear-away so she probably deserved it. I hope it makes her settle down so she can find a husband.”
Mair hears me as I gasp again. I really cannot imagine being completely cut off from the world like that. I’ll certainly make sure I never end up in a red mask.
Eventually we walk right round the lake and are heading back towards home, when I see another woman approaching evidently being guided by her maid. As she gets closer I see that she too is blind and her whole face is covered, but her mask is white, like mine. Mair doesn’t notice but I make a note to ask her when we are home.
As we walk toward the gate, Mair leans towards my ear and speaks again.
“Shall we sit for a while? It’s really lovely here.”
I nod agreement and we find a seat under a tree where the sun is not on our heads. Mair is right. It is a beautiful day, and even though my veil restricts my vision quite a lot, I can see that there are dozens of small birds in the trees, and can hear them singing their hearts out.
After a minute or two, Mair speaks again.
“Seeing that woman in the red mask reminds me of some of the other things I saw at my uncle’s house. My uncle is very strict and the town they live in has passed the new laws allowing husbands to restrict their wives. The whole time I was there my aunt was wearing a ball and chain attached to each wrist. My uncle told me they weighed about fifty pounds each, so were only a reminder, as he put it. I don‘t want a reminder like that. She really found it hard to walk far dragging all that weight, though my uncle seemed to think it was fine. I gather she said something to upset him. I hope when I find a husband he isn’t like my uncle.”
After another struggle to stand and an adventurous time crossing the roam, we arrive back at the house and I start the slow process of climbing the stairs to my room. It is easier than going down but still slow.
As soon as we get back to my room and Mair is releasing my hands, I ask her about the woman in the white mask.
She hadn’t noticed, but told me that the woman was probably being punished for some indiscretion. It wasn’t a mask imposed by the court so it must be her family punishing her. I decide that I will try to be the perfect daughter, though I cannot imagine my father punishing me like that however much I err. But for a long time I cannot get the two masked woman and Mair’s stories out of my mind. That night I lie for several hours before drifting off to sleep, only to have dreams where I am restrained and enclosed in all sorts of bizarre ways. Of course when I wake, exhausted, I can remember hardly anything except the feelings, which I realise were rather pleasant. I am astounded about myself!