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Part 5: Her Evening
Her preparations for the evening soiree were almost as manifold as those in the morning but she minded not one jot such was the reward at the end. The biggest challenge was the corset which needed to be laced down in stages. Once she was in her room, undressed and had attended to her toilet, she was fastened to the lacing bar, the day stays removed and the fearsome ball stays fastened in their place. These were both longer and tighter and needed to be laced to their utmost for the evening dress to fit but she minded not the discomfort. After all, for a few hours she would be free of both her mask and her monoglove and what is more, there was the prospect of some delightful company to look forward to as well. However, as Woakes fitted the ball stays and started to lace them down, she felt a wave of horror pass through her. Mr. Cavendish had complimented her on her beauty and appearance in the garden – and that had caused her to swell with pride – but what would be say when he saw her real face and not the false mask? Would it please him or repulse him? She hoped and prayed that it would be the former and reassured herself that, whatever her face may or may not be, at least her waist and gait were suitably feminine and elegant.
The stays were soon tightened down to 16½ inches – her usual size – at which point her breasts swelled up and down and she began to feel faint and so they were tied off, she was released and allowed to relax on the bed for half an hour before the next session which got them down to 15 inches at which point she passed out from the tightness. Whilst she was brought round with smelling salts and her breathing calmed again, silk stockings, boots suitable for dancing (i.e. only five inch heels) and silken underwear were fitted. There was no slip today of course, because her evening dress was off the shoulder.
Once that was done, Woakes started on her hairstyle in-between short bursts on the laces, reducing by around a quarter of an inch a time. Beautifully decorated with flowers and jewels and curled with a chignon, it was then time for the petticoats and her crinoline. This crinoline was much larger than the usual one which could not be so large that others could not assist her. Now though, on comparatively low heels, no mask and with free arms, she could be independent and so size was no object and indeed, the bigger the better since the contrast with the minute waist was all the more.
Finally, after one last burst and another fainting, the waist was down to 14 inches and could be tied off. Then her evening dress in the finest sky blue satin was lifted over her head and fitted. It was tight around the middle and showed off her bosom to the best advantage, a bosom that was surging up and down in the fight to get sufficient oxygen.
Now the dress was on she was seated and her evening kid gloves, which had been in stretchers all day, were smoothed onto her hands. Much tighter than her day gloves. She could hardly move her fingers in them and the extremities were starved of blood but they looked supremely feminine and elegant.
Then came her make up: powder to accentuate the already deathly paleness of her face and shoulders and then some rouge on the lips and work on her rarely-seen eyebrows and lashes. Finally a soupçon of perfume, the fitting of all the fine jewellery that her uncle had bought her and her jewelled fan placed in her hand and she was ready to be presented, a vision of loveliness.
She descended the stairs delicately and carefully and walked into the room, uncovered and untrammelled. The whole party stood up and bowed and she curtseyed in reply. Mr. Cavendish’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. “You are… enchanting!” he said, quite overcome.
That evening, with no sun to harm her delicate complexion, she danced to the music of the string quartet, partnering many of the men of whom there were around ten attending. But never was she so happy as when Mr. Cavendish encircled her waist with his two hands and waltzed her around the room before then escorting her onto the terrace, helping her to sit and kissing her, this time for real! It was like a dream come true!
But the dream really did come true an hour later when the music stopped, her uncle clapped his hands and said, “My dear friend Arthur Cavendish has an announcement to make!”
Mr. Cavendish took to the floor and said, “When I first heard that my old friend had taken in and adopted poor orphaned girls, I was full of admiration for his kindness and generosity. But before I came here today, I never realised just what a thorough and fine job he does in turning them out for society. Before I met his ward here today, I had been searching for a perfect woman, one who is graceful, elegant, obedient and demure. Today I have found her. Tonight you all see her face in a very rare occurrence for it is usually covered with a delightful china mask whilst her arms are becomingly bound. It is because of the way he has kept her and the fashion in which she has adapted to that lifestyle that I asked him a few minutes ago for his permission to wed her. He has agreed on the proviso that she is kept after marriage just as she is now. That, of course, goes without saying. Indeed, I intend to protect this precious jewel even more so than at present and so tonight may indeed be the last time that darling face is seen in public and her joyful voice heard. That is the proper way for I shall make her my elegant and feminine doll and so please, ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses for our impending marriage!”
And thus they all did raise their glasses. Well, all except one. For the bride to be had fainted clean away.