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The Merry Order of St. Bridget, Personal Recollections of the Use of the Rod, by Margaret Anson

The Merry Order of St. Bridget

Personal Recollections of the Use of the Rod

Margaret Anson


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Letter I




I am sure you must have wondered what has become of me in all these years (three, isn’t it?) since we met at Lord E-’s place.

Perhaps you won’t care to hear from me again, and will fancy I have forgotten our old friendship; indeed, my dear, it is not so, but I’ve been knocking about a bit, and seen the world. I’ve been in Paris two years in two different places, and learned as much in that time as many folks do in a lifetime.

Cooped up as you are in a humdrum sort of place, with one old lady, you can have no idea of what goes on in livelier households.

In my last place I was one of six lady’s maids, all with nothing to do but to attend to some separate part of our lady’s toilet. I entered her service from that of a grave austere woman with no ideas of colour beyond brown and grey, and a tremendous church-goer, so you may imagine what a change it was.

I soon wearied of that place, you may be sure, and was glad when the Marquise St. Valery took me into her service. The Marquis was immensely proud and very poor, but he bestowed his titles and position upon a banker’s daughter, whose wealth was said to be fabulous. When she married and took her station among the elite of Parisian society, she made up her mind that she would be unapproachable in the matter of luxury. My dear, I can give you no idea of her magnificence or her extravagance. Her house, her carriages, her servants, and the splendour of her attire, were the themes of all Paris, and when she appeared in public she had quite a retinue of admirers and flatterers; while at home she seemed to hold a levee from morning till night. Her toilettes were the admiration of all the fashionable world, and her dressmaker had only to announce that she had anything in hand for the Marquise St. Valery, to have her shop crowded from morning till night with ladies eager to get a sight of what the Queen of fashion was going to appear in next. She was a large voluptuous-looking woman, with a splendid bust and arms, and almost anything looked well upon her,-and for luxurious habits, I never knew anyone who could approach her. I fancied. I was pretty wide awake before I went there, but I learned things I never dreamed of in that establishment. If I had you with me for a day I could tell you such things!

Perhaps I may put some of them into a letter yet. Nothing I could see done or hear of being done by fine ladies would astonish me now after what I have seen in that place as well as my present one. We were six of us lady’s maids, and every one had her special duties,-mine was her ladyship’s head, and it was no sinecure, for her hair was her weakest point; it was neither of good quality nor luxuriant, and yet, when she was dressed, she appeared to have a magnificent head. This was my province, and she would change her style half-a-dozen times a day sometimes. You see it was no trouble to her, except to sit and have it put on; so she would wear Madonna bands in the morning, ringlets in the carriage, and a Pompadour coiffure for the evening. I had enough to do with it all. Another maid had the dresses, a third the under linen, and a fourth took charge of her stockings and shoes. Then there was one over us all whose business it was to arrange the toilettes, and superintend the general effect, and woe to her if our lady was not pleased! With all her money, the Marquise had an exceedingly vulgar temper.

The other maid had charge of the bath and the linen belonging to it, and her post was not easy to fill. My lady was particular about her scents and powders, and was given to changing her mind at the last minute, and railing because water could not be drawn off and fresh put in half-a-dozen seconds. Then she has pages I don’t know how many; they seemed to be all over the place, dressed in all kinds of fantastic liveries -one to hand letters, another to fetch refreshments, another to be always in waiting, c., c.; indeed, there was no end to her vagaries, and for a long time I wondered what she wanted with so many of them, and how she kept them in order.

I soon found out. She practised whipping, as almost every fashionable lady does, and kept them in order with the rod. I dare say, shut up as you are, you have never seen anything of the practice since you and I were girls together at Mme. Duhauton’s. Do you remember how we used to indulge in whipping on the sly, when Madame thought we were in bed? That was a very untutored way of proceeding. I have learned better since, and I can tell you that the passion for the rod is one which grows; I am as ardent a votary of whipping now as any of the ladies I have served, and I have had two mistresses who loved it dearly.

Mme. St. Valery kept her women and pages in order with the rod, and taught us to dread it, but she was not refined in her manner of using it; she would begin well enough, but it was sure to end in her getting in a passion.

Many a time I have smarted well in her service, but if she hit hard she knew how to heal the smarts,-a twenty franc billet-de-banc is a good plaster for the weals of a lady’s rod, and many and many a one I got from her. I might have made a heap of money if I had not been wasteful, for I’ve been with people who flung it about like dirt, and thought no more of five pound notes than you and I should think of penny pieces. I was obliged to leave the Marquise at last-I could not stand her tantrums; the money was all very well, but there was no pleasing her, or the principal maid either, and as good luck would have it, my present lady wanted a maid, and was pleased with the style of the Marquise’s head-dress and so took me. I call her my lady still, though I have left her for a time, and come to live with her mother, a horrid old frump; the fact is, I am in a kind of disgrace.

We had been paying a long visit at the Chateau de Floris, near Tours, and there was nothing going on all day long but gaiety and fun, and the time passed quickly enough. My lady had to leave there; you’d see her name in the papers. She tells her friends she came home to recruit, but that’s not it.

My lord brought her off in a hurry, and sent me here, and what do you think for? for going in with a lot more ladies for a sort of club-great fun and secret- only ladies admitted-and how it got to my lord’s ears was the funniest part of all. Anyhow, we had to come away, and he is furious. You will want to know what the club was about; well, it was made up of dressing, talking, and whipping.

Yes, my dear, a regular whipping society, where the rod was used with all due forms and ceremonies, and ladies practised and submitted to punishment in every conceivable form. I thought of it all the other day when I came upon a pompous newspaper paragraph about the abolition of whipping in schools and homes, and the decline of the “barbarous” practice of the rod. Ah, my dear, newspaper folks don’t know everything! I think you and I could tell them a little about it. But you wanted to know about the fashions; you’ve got them all in England, my dear, only the English ladies are not so finished as the French-they don’t do things so completely.

When I was at Tours-and a funny old place it is-I saw as much of the fashions as though I had been in Paris. There was a large party staying there (at the Chateau de Floris: it is a big old place, almost like a town ), and every day the ladies appeared in different dresses in the salons, to say nothing of what they wore in their own private rooms. I know my lady spent a fortune while she was there; she would dress in her own room, where no mortal eyes could sec her but mine, in lace and linen, embroidered silk shoes and lace stockings, expensive enough to provide a family with food and clothes for a year. The Count de Floris spared no expense to please his visitors; and the chateau, which was so secluded as to appear miles from any town, was beautifully furnished and decorated.

The Count was a bachelor, and that perhaps accounted for some of the freaks of his lady guests, who could not have ventured upon their vagaries with a mistress at the head of affairs. The drawing-rooms of the chateau were splendid; the new blue was the prevailing colour of the draperies, relieved with silver and satin wood for the framework of the furniture. That the ladies’ complexions might not be tried, or the effect of their toilettes marred, there were draperies of white lace very cleverly interspersed, and the prevailing tint of the painted floors and wall paper was white also.

The rooms were beautiful to look into of a night when the company were all there in their evening toilettes. One which my lady wore at a ball excited great admiration, and envy too, for she had it sent down from Paris, made after a design she sketched for Elsie herself. You know she is dark, and she chose amber for the colour of her robe; she wore the new pannier petticoat, which only wants a little more expansion to grow into the curious hoops of more than a hundred years ago, when ladies could have carried a box on each side of them; it is a very small affair at present, only meant to support the dress a little, but mark my words, my dear, it will grow-see if it does not. The bottom of it was frilled and edged with Cluny lace, and for bodice my lady wore one of the new slip bodies which form a chemisette and bodice in one.

The upper part of it was covered with puffings of amber satin trimmed with lace, and sleeves of the same. My lady always wears sleeves, though it is by no means the prevailing mode here; she says that it is not modest to wear a string of jewels or a slight spray of artificial flowers for a shoulder strap, leaving the arm entirely bare; but it was not modesty, it was my lord I She appeared in a costume of that sort once, and he flew into a passion and made her go and put on something more modest. My lady was very angry, for she is a fine made woman, and her bust and arms are worth looking at. But she pretends now to dislike the fashion.

Her stockings were of silk, the new tint of pink-it is more like the faintest possible shade of mauve than anything else-with clocks up the sides, and her slippers were of amber satin, with high gilt heels.

They were pointed at the toe in the Marie Antoinette style, and had rosettes with ruby ornaments in the centre; the rosette was of the new blue, edged with black lace and tipped with diamonds. My lady has a lovely foot and ankle, and she knows it, and is fond of having it admired; indeed, her legs and feet have been painted, and modelled, and sung about, by artists, and sculptors, and poets,-and no wonder. I’ve served a good many fine ladies and beautiful women, but such a symmetrical calf and ankle as hers I never saw. It was her feet that first attracted the attention of a certain Royal Highness, which caused so much scandal a year or two ago,-my lady is almost old enough to be his mother, but that does not matter where beauty is concerned.

She wore an amber train, very long behind, with six puffings round the bottom of the skirt; over that, a satin tunic made in a very curious fashion. The front was square and short, like an apron; the back was in three divisions, a good way apart, with deep black lace flounces between them, the bottom one going round the front and along the edge of the apron. The flounces were looped at the sides with large stars of blue flowers mixed with diamonds and rubies, and the headdress corresponded. It was a curious costume, but it suited my lady well. At the same ball, a young lady appeared in a dress which had almost no body; it was so bare that whenever she moved the whole of her bosom could be seen, and was confined on the shoulder by a wreath of snowdrops, cunningly fastened together. The whole of a most beautiful arm was thus exposed, an arm as faultless as my mistress’s leg; it looked like veined marble, against a dress of rich pink silk: her arms were that young lady’s speciality, and she took care everyone should know it.

The turn of her neck was another lady’s great point, and she was as careful to let no necklace or anything else come high enough on her throat to interfere with the exhibition of it; she wore a dress of rich blue, trimmed with white lace and pearls, and strings of pearls in her dark hair The luxury and extravagance of the ladies would sound like a fairy tale if put in print, and I don’t wonder at my lord taking fright as he did, though my lady was not near so thoughtless as some of them.

Our rooms were beautifully fitted up: the bedroom was hung with the new Pans pattern chintz-ugly enough I thought it, but it is all the rage,-and my lord’s dressing room was en suite; my lady’s was different, being all hung with amber and purple, amber predominating, and splendid white lace curtains.

Her toilet table was beautiful to look at, for, in addition to her own service, which we carried with us, the Count had given orders that no expense should be spared to make her room as elegant as possible. Out of this apartment opened a bath-room, with fittings of white marble and grey draperies, relieved with blue and gold; it was warmed by a patent stove which also heated a small cupboard for warm towels if required. The windows were beautifully painted with arms of the De Floris, which device was also woven into all the napery used at the chateau. The linen was of the most exquisite description; the trimmed sheets and pillow-cases were of the finest texture-all woven expressly for the Count, with his cipher in the corners and a border of fleur de lis.

Ah, the Count was a thorough gentleman, Marion: he gave me a present of a purse containing ten Louis d’ors when I left, and,-but that has nothing to do with it: ladies’-maids have charms as well as their mistresses, and gentlemen have eyes. But I know you are dying to hear all about the club, and how it was set afoot, I can hardly tell you that, but it began with some nonsense in my lady’s room. She had just come out of her bath one day, and was sitting in her chemise and a loose wrapper, for me to put her stockings on, when Lady C-knocked at the door. There were some queer tales going about respecting Lady C- and her maids; she was a passionate, proud woman, and had more than once got into scrapes for allowing her love for the rod to carry her greater lengths in punishing them than they would quietly brook. Her present maid, Stephens by name, looked a regular tartar, and I don’t think her ladyship ever tried it on with her Lady C- started at seeing my lady half naked, and whispered something in her ear- “Oh, nonsense!” my lady said.

“Why nonsense, my dear? It is universally practised;” and then she added something in too low a tone for me to hear, and my lady laughed again.

“Send your maid away,” says Lady C-, “and we’ll try”

“Go down stairs till I ring, Anson,” my lady said.

“Not if I know it,” I said to myself; and I did not go far, you may be sure.

I guessed what they were going to be at, and I was not far wrong. I crept round to the door which communicated with my lord’s room, and peeped through the keyhole. They had locked it, but the key was conveniently turned, and I could see all that transpired.

“Now for the formula,” says Lady C- “But where’s the rod?” my lady asked. “Oh! I’ll soon make one, my dear.”

With that she opened the window, and broke off some slender sprigs from a myrtle which grew outside, completely spoiling the bush by doing it. In a few moments she had them bare of leaves, and tied together with a blue embroidered garter, with silver fringe, which lay upon the floor.

“Too short to be of much use,” she said; “but we’ll try. Come, my lady, kiss the rod.”

And my lady knelt and did it, laughing all the while; and then Lady C-pinned up her chemise all round, and gave her a good whipping across her knee. Not with the myrtle, though-it proved too brittle, and broke off in little twigs with every blow. Lady C- was at no loss; she didn’t let go of my lady; but put up her great ugly foot, and whipped off her slipper. Such a slipper! it had done duty at more than one ball, and was all frayed and soiled at the edges; she was not like my lady, dainty about her feet in the privacy of her own room, but went any way, to Stephen’s great annoyance, who lost the reversion of many things which should by rights have come to her. I think I can see that old woman now, flourishing that old pink shoe; and I could see by the expression of my lady’s face, that she did not relish being touched with it.

My lady had beautiful firm flesh; her skin, though dark, was clear and smooth, and every stroke of the pliable slipper raised a deep red mark.

I could see that they were afraid of making too much noise, and so the punishment was not heavy, but my lady scuffled and screamed for all that; and when I was called in, by which time you may be sure I was a long way off, she was very flushed and a little hysterical.

I took no notice, and she little thought I had seen all that went on; and old Lady C- (the old gorgon) had her shoe on and went away to her own rooms, looking as stiff and stern as if she had never indulged in any pranks in her life. I said to myself, “This won’t be the last of it,” and I was right; for you know, my dear, how the passion for the rod grows upon those who practise it. It wasn’t long before the same thing occurred again; only, this time there were three ladies present, who all took part in whipping and being whipped.

My lady had made a rod herself for the occasion, out of some thin whalebone; and a stinging thing it must have been, to judge from the fidgets which seemed to afflict them all after the performance was over. And so it went on, till one morning I was made to dress her with more than usual care, and nearly all the married ladies in the chateau met in her rooms, and went in procession to the Count with a comical petition that the tabagie, which was a magnificently fitted room and in great request, might be given up to their use. Of course the gentlemen objected to give up their special den, where they could retire and enjoy themselves their own way, without fear of interruption; but the ladies had their own special reasons for wanting that particular room. I haven’t, however, time to tell you what they wanted with it now; I hear wheels, and my lady will want me; I’ll write again as soon as ever I have time, for what came of it was great fun.- Meantime, believe me, Your affectionate friend,



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