I had always hoped to find something hidden and of value among all the old furniture I buy for my store. Something of marketable value, as it were : an authentic part of Hitler’s diaries, the confessions of Jack the Ripper, maybe some stocks from the All Russian Insurance Company, an unknown copy of a Shakespeare play, goodness knows even just a nice 19th century erotic daguerreotype would be nice for a change.
But the wholesalers, gypsies and junkmen usually go over everything with a fine comb and take anything of any worth whatsoever. All that I find are old newspapers (every now and then there is the odd faded issue of The Red Army Times in Latvian or Polish), worthless coins, old can openers, clothes hangers, knives and forks, and junk, junk, and more junk.
A few weeks ago I managed to get hold of a late 18th century painted wardrobe before the other antique dealers arrived. These things aren’t that cheap any more, the trade just isn’t what it used to be, but what is these days ?
Whatever though, I paid for it and loaded it up in my van. The next day at the workshop I gave it the old look over, wondering what defects would become apparent that I hadn’t noticed the night before. It was quite well preserved to my gratification, there wouldn’t be much work on this piece aside from some waxing and cleaning out. The lock was in one piece, which was a bit of luck, metal work not being my strong point. While fiddling around I dropped the key and found it on the bottom of the wardrobe lodged in a crack. I couldn’t get it out readily so I took a few tools and tried to pry it loose. Imagine my surprise when suddenly the key came free, and unlatched a mechanism of some kind. There was a loud click and a wooden panel sprung back on hinges revealing a cunningly built hidden compartment in the floor of the wardrobe.
I was taken a bit by surprise, but this wasn’t the first time I had come across secret compartments in old furniture. All of the other times though they had been totally and completely empty. Now however, I looked inside and saw several books and papers. I took them out and examined them but at first could make nothing of them. They were clearly old, the books were small, raffled and leather bound, inside were several sheets of folded paper with faded handwriting.
I put everything aside and got on with my work and it wasn’t until later that night that I had more time to examine my finds.
Luckily this wardrobe hadn’t been put into the stripping bath since it had a very well preserved coat of original paint on it. Had it been stripped the caustic bath would surely have ruined the paper inside the hidden compartment. The books were some type of medical manuals, and I could not make much of them. I rightly took the other papers to be letters, all apparently by the same person. It was easy to recognize the headings, dates and salutations, but with the writing I had some more difficulty. In this day and age of word processing I sometimes consider it a wonder that any of us can still write legibly, but I hadn’t counted on my reading skills being impaired by non exercise. To my surprise it was hard for me to make out the florid handwriting. To compound the difficulties the letters were written in French, which I do understand, but only up to a point.
At any rate, out of curiosity I started deciphering the text and was amazed at the tale that was told. Over the next days I contacted an old friend who had studied Romance Languages at the University and together we went over the letters and diligently read and translated them.
Rather than give a condensed version in my own words, I thought that you might be interested in reading the letters themselves. My friend and I have striven to use appropriate language and words in the translation, so that the delightful flavor of the original 18th century prose be better appreciated.
Nancy-le-Boy, Friday September 4, 1744
A ma chère tendre cousine bien aimée, Ernestine;
May this letter find you in the best of health as always is my wish, dear cousin. Convey my sincerest wishes to all the other members of your esteemed family, my dear uncle Josephe and tante Pauline, your brothers and sister.
So much has happened since Papa and I left on the journey to the Arch Bishopric of Kitzslershagen that I scarcely know what to recount first. You can easily surmise that I was not at all pleased to hear of dear Papa’s imminent departure as counselor to the ambassador in that wretched little principality far across the Rhine. I knew that I would miss him terribly if I were to be left behind, more so than ever before, now that dear Maman was but put to rest barely a year ago. I was so pleased that uncle Josephe convinced him that it would not be proper to leave me alone at the manor and that it would further my education if I were to converse with the nobility and attend the greater and lesser courts of Europe.
Such a voyage it has been ! The hardships were indescribable, the food at the inns unpalatable, the accommodations atrocious, the peasants simply filthy and the roads unpassable. What sufferings travelers must endure if they are to visit far away lands and distant courts.
It was with great pleasure that Papa decided we would pause in the fair city of Nancy-le-Boy, visit the court and partake of the pastimes offered. We found lodgings in a suitable building near the Grande Place and two separate floors were reserved entirely for our party. Charlotte has been terribly busy bringing it all in order and as usual I have been after her all the time, for just like most servants she shirks her duties whenever possible.
There are many fine buildings in this city, some still constructed in wood but most in well cut stone adorned in the latest fashion. The inhabitants speak an odd variant of our beloved language, and at times I am vexed with their guttural pronunciations and speech. At the court and homes of the nobles however, nothing but refined manners and customs abound, though Papa has said that all the finery in this entire province would not compare to what splendors are to be seen in Paris. I fervently hope that some day I too will be allowed to visit our capital and attend the King and Queen at court.
A week had passed when it was announced that a recital would be given at the Théâtre de la Creme Fraiche. Canatas and grand arias in the Italian style would be performed by the great castrato Testiculino and it was expected that all of the city’s high society and nobility would be in attendance.
I begged Papa to be allowed to attend. He finally consented after much pleading and promising on my part, for it is considered unseemly for an unwed and unchaperoned lady to be seen at such places and it would be impossible for him to attend the performance himself. Much to my pleasure, an acquaintance of Papa, the Marquise Justine de la Vierge du Petitrou, offered to act as my companion and chaperone that evening and it was with the greatest of expectations that I looked forward to the evening.
Oh Ernestine, such amazing and shameful things are told about the great castratos. Charlotte, that silly chatterbox, recounted numerous anecdotes and tales. It is said, though I scarcely can believe it to be true, that they are much sought after bedfellows and that both lords, bishops and ladies vie in receiving their favors and at times all participate one with the other, all at once ! It is even said that Holy Mother Church, has not decreed it to be sinful, these creatures being neither male nor female, so that no wrongdoing and therefore no sin is committed. I am at a loss in imaging what unnatural acts could be performed with such incomplete creatures, but when I ask Charlotte for details all I get are incredible looks and fits of giggles. I think that she is mostly making fun of me by telling such unbelievable accounts, she does think that I am the most gullible of young ladies.
All this nonsense notwithstanding, I was so excited the night we went to the theater. Madame de Marquise greeted me most graciously and introduced me to various members of her party and entourage : there were several of her distant relatives, Josephine du Trouxmouillé, an officer of musketeers Gerard le Plafusille, her private physician le Docteur Phillipe Honoré Delaverge, once attendant to the Royal court and several others of whom there were too many to recount. I was most thrilled when she presented me to the Arch Bishop Priapator Hilarius, one of the principal patrons of the arts in Nancy-le-Boy and an ardent admirer of the singer Testiculino.
What a fine building the Théâtre de la Creme Fraiche was ! There must have been room for at least 300 seated and standing. The stage was brilliantly lit by a multitude of candles, reflecting the light from crystal chandeliers, mirrors and metal cones. The Marquise had several booths reserved for her on the upper levels and she graciously invited me to take a seat next to herself. There were so many high born gentlemen and ladies about, dressed in their finest attire with dazzling white wigs and hairpieces, the ladies in intricate dresses and finery, fans a flutter and so delicately made up with powder, rouge and eyeshadow. I feared that I presented a meager apparition, but the Marquise who must be terrible attuned and accustomed to mixing with others of higher station, reassured me that although I may be lacking in experience I was certainly not lacking in admirers. Blushing, I had to admit that a considerable number of young gentlemen had come by our lodge and introduced themselves, trying to engage me in conversation. The Marquise shooed most of them away, laughing in a good natured manner, which I fear, only caused their inquisitiveness to grow.
Ernestine, it was such a grand spectacle when the performance started ! There were several secondary singers who gave a good showing of themselves in my opinion, but I fear that the public of Nancy-le-Boy is somewhat jaded, for scarcely anyone stopped their conversations to listen and it was all the performers could do to make themselves heard over the din in the theater. The Marquise found nothing out of the ordinary in this behavior apparently, though I for one greatly regretted not being able to more appreciate the singing, it being of such quality that scarce have I heard its’ like before. Nevertheless, as custom decrees, the vendors and harkers did not cease plying their trade until it was time for Testiculino to appear.
Finally a hush descended over the audience, the orchestra swirled into an introductory partita and the curtains parted. There stood the great castrato, in a magnificent costume of armor and furs, beset with a plumed and gilded helmet, shining in a multitude of candles. He strode to the front and with a bold gesture of his arm entered upon the rousing aria of ‘Fammi Combattere’ composed by the renowned maestro Signor Haendel. Such a strength of voice, such passion have I never heard before ! I was shaken and stirred, trembling with delight, never had I believed such music possible. When before I had heard men speak of the divine harmony of the heavenly spheres, I had thought it to be but a figure of speech. That night I learned better, dear Ernestine. The great singer poured out his voice and let it ride over us like a wave that breaks over the land, he overwhelmed and enthralled my senses. Oh to think that I had never experienced such bliss and rapture before was almost unbearable.
The applause was thunderous after the first aria and many of the audience cheered and exhorted him to continue in the same vein. Dashing and tumultuous partitas were followed by slower and melancholy cantatas, all performed by the heroic and regal figure before me on stage. An aria of love unrequited caused my heart to melt in sweet sadness and brought tears to my eyes. The Marquise, seeing me distraught, put her hand over mine as if to reassure me that such sentiments were not inappropriate in such circumstances. She looked me in the eyes and smiled gently, brushing her hand against my cheek in understanding.
My heart leapt and seemed to melt all at once and I could scarce contain my emotions. Tears poured forth freely and I could not quench them, however I tried. Testiculino set forth into another and final aria, one so devastatingly splendid and melodic, as to be almost angelic in its purity and utter harmony, that I felt my soul would surely take flight of my lowly body. Such ultimate perfection could not be meant for mortals such as us I thought and I felt my mind loose control over my body.
I experienced a flush of warmth throughout my limbs that penetrated my inner body and struck me to the heart. My head felt heavy and distant and then seemed to recede from the theater, going down a long corridor, away from the music and sounds. I was faint, with legs a tremble and I dare hardly say his but for the fact that we are friends as intimate as is allowed under Gods laws and have never concealed anything from one another, and also because this is but a small thing compared to what I have experienced since. Still I felt a warmth, as delicious and enticing as never I have perceived flow over me. This sensation however originated in that most secret place of guarded femininity, so that at first I was not aware of its’ source. But even as I receded into a fog of insensitivity, I could perceive a dampness between my thighs that was as surely provenant from my virgin quim as if I had been frigging myself before falling asleep. The secretions seeped down my thighs and legs even and I was dimly aware that I must take care not to embarrass myself in such a setting of all places, where I could no longer keep control over myself.
To the rounding finish of Testiculino’s final aria, when he poured forth with all the power endowed in his mighty voice, I trembled with passion and heat in my body, I fear that I cried out uncontrollably, and finally I swooned and knew no more.
I awoke in a small room some time later (not 15 minutes afterwards I was told), attended by several people. At first I could make out nothing, but then recognized the Marquise who was holding my hand and further away from me was her physician, Docteur Delaverge. I was still dizzy at first but felt cooler than in the theater. When the dizziness receded slowly, I came to realize that my dress had been lifted above my waist and that my female parts were uncovered. I meekly tried to protest but the Marquise told me to take no heed of my condition. I had swooned, she gently told me, a not uncommon occurrence in such circumstances, and her physician had me brought here to be revived by a treatment in which he was specialized.
She went on to tell me of his great reputation at court, and that surely I was aware of the royal predilection for clysters. Scarcely had the Marquise mentioned that procedure than I become aware of an object that was lodged in the hole of my fundament. With a start I raised my head, but the Marquise smiled and held me down, telling me to think nothing of my situation and to let Docteur Delaverge get on with his treatment. Did I not feel better already ? she asked, and in truth I was gaining strength and becoming more clearheaded. I closed my eyes and nodded, all the while conscious of a foreign presence in my little rosette. I was also aware of my damp thighs and was certain that the doctor would see the juices that covered my quim and had spread over my thighs.
La Marquise du Petitrou, hushed me and said to take no notice of her physician. He was a most experienced practitioner, she reassured me, and was quite knowledgeable and acquainted with intimate details of the feminine anatomy. She confided that this was nothing to be ashamed off, to the contrary even, that many ladies of noble birth were regularly treated in the same manner.
But, being an ignorant and unsophisticated young lady in comparison to others I had no idea what the Marquise was referring to and I told her so. Once again she smiled at me gently, now I believe at my naiveté, and explained that swooning ladies were oft revived with applications of the Indian Weed or tobacco smoke into the bowels.
Even as she was telling me this did I notice the pungent and heavy aroma of the sweet smelling plant and the warmth and bloated feeling coming from within my bowels. I saw the doctor take a deep breath of the smoke and blow it into a thin tube that disappeared between my widespread thighs. Immediately my insides were filled up and I felt a rush of strength and vigor travel through my body. Once again I felt lightheaded, but in a more uplifting manner. There was a tingling in my extremities and I was awake and fully conscious, filled with a new and pleasing vigor.
He was blowing the smoke inside of me ! What a novel and ingenious thought. I knew it was considered quite unsuitable for a lady to inhale the smoke from the tobacco plant, but men find it invigorating and even addictive. Many cough and become short of breath from prolonged use, but this manner of partaking of the smoke was one I had never heard of. After the treatment it was of course necessary to expel the vapors from my bowels, but they were no more foul smelling than when exhaled from the mouth. Only the shame of my position caused me to take less pleasure in the administration than I could have had in other conditions. But with the Marquise showing such concern for my well being I calmed down and let the feelings of well being flow upwards from my lower bowels into the rest of my body.
When the doctor decided that enough of the smoke had been put inside of me, he used one hand of his to part my buttocks and push down around the fundament of my little rosette, while he extracted the nozzle that had been so indiscreetly inserted inside of me. He then took a towel and wiped off whatever liquid still adhered to my thighs and legs. The doctor finally turned around and smiled at me, asking me if I felt better now. I told him that indeed I did and thanked him kindly for his ministrations. He was at my service he replied, and continued by explaining that as the final part of his treatment he would discretely examine my female parts in order to ascertain that no damage had been sustained to such delicate and lovely organs.
I knew not how to respond to such words, were they mere doctors’ talk, part of his stock and trade, or meant as a compliment ? I looked to the Marquise for a hint of how to comport myself but she seemed to treat doctor Delaverge’s words as nothing out of the ordinary. Following her lead, I too smiled and thanked him for his kind and professional demeanor.
He then returned to his previous position, but now I felt his probing fingers around the portals to my seat of love. True to his word he gently opened my still damp outer lips and spread them open to his view. He stuck a finger further inside of me, but encountered my maidenhood and refrained from forcing further passage. Instead he slowly felt along the lengthwise slit of my organ and frequently squeezed the halves of my quim. It was a most delicious sensation and in spite of the setting I felt a warm glow again rise in the capricious organs of love. However the doctor refrained from arousing me even more and completed his examination.
He told the Marquise that all was well and that I had nothing to fear for my reputation as a future bride. I blushed deeply when he said this, but the Marquise reassured me that all was well. At times she explained, a maiden may exert herself so strenuously, that through no fault of her own, she may loose her proof of virginity, without the commitance of any physical act of love. These were new things to me, as was so much that night that I could not take it all in at once. I just nodded, relieved that Papa would have no cause be ashamed on my account.
After some more time had passed, the Marquise left us alone in order to return to her guests and companions. Doctor Delaverge then placed a cushion under my backside and urged me to expel the tobacco smoke still inside. He helped me by pushing down on my belly and after passing a large quantity of smoke I was allowed to rearrange my dresses and regain the company of the Marquise.
It was true that I felt much better afterwards, and many ladies came to me to inquire if all was well. I reassured them that it was, and I do believe that many of them took me to their hearts and hinted at things in a manner as if I had become their intimate confidant. The rest of the evening passed delightfully at the townhouse of some nobleman or other, I forget his name.
Of course when Papa heard about what had happened at the theater he was all a worry. He refused to continue on his travels to the court of Kitzslershagen until reassured that I was completely able to travel. The Marquise resolved any problems however by inviting me to accompany her and the Doctor Delaverge to her chateau for a cure. Many people of high birth, followed the doctors regime at the chateau, she explained, promising better heath and sound digestion for the elderly, and relaxation and water cures for the younger. There were genteel and educative pastimes for all guests. It was but a mere two days journey from the city by coach and so would pose no great problem of distance.
Of course Papa refused the prerequisite number of times, until he finally bowed to the Marquise’s most gracious offer. It was decided that I would travel with the Marquise de la Vierge du Petitrou and follow a cure at the chateau du Troumouillé until I was deemed fit to continue to the court at Kitzslershagen.
We are leaving day after tomorrow and I must go to supervise the packing and ensure that Charlotte does not leave anything behind. I will write to you as soon as I arrive at the chateau du Troumouillé and we have settled in.
Je reste fidele a la mémoire de notre amour chaste et pure
Votre tendre cousine
Marianne du Saint Coqcu-Bandant
Notes : Please do not expect this to be a perfect rendering of an 18th century text. I have tried to approximate the prose styles and leave out modern words and phrases to the best of my knowledge, but I am by no stretch of the imagination to be considered as anything other than an amateur.
I have mixed up dates somewhat in order to have the story take place during a period when the great castrato singers were the envy of the stage. The application of tobacco smoke as an enemic to revive fainting women was apparently quite popular in 18th century France. Since the reign of Louis XIII (late 16th century) the giving of clysters was quite popular with people of noble birth and has been described by historians numerous times. At the Royal Court it seems that some sovereigns were quite addicted to the practice and went their merry royal way in giving clysters and enemas to any living thing with a hole in it. Not only were the august persons of noble blood clystered with wild abandon (and in the presence of the court to boot), but also their maids, servants and even pet dogs. And just about anything was used as a solution, tobacco being just one of the many popular ingredients.
I have used a multitude of fictitious names, in the tradition of the 18th century. That is : concocting silly sounding names that refer to something else than is apparent at first. Usually this was done in Italian, but I am ignorant of that language and have preferred French instead.
I have borrowed some ideas from the Belgian film ‘Farinelli’, which tells the story of that famous castrato singer. I heartily recommend the movie to anyone interested in fine baroque music coupled with a bit of eroticism and historical setting. For reading, Anne Rice’s book ‘Cry to Heaven’ is a masterpiece of historical research, intrigue, eroticism and romance all wrapped up in one.
A last remark I wish to make concerns a stock phrase that my father used (and still does) quite often when describing how to treat women. He liked to tell me that if I wanted to get anywhere with them (into their pants is what he meant) I had wine and dine them and then ‘blow some smoke up their ass’.
I am sure that this curious and comic phrase refers to the old French practice of reviving fainting women with an application of tobacco smoke up the anus. I don’t think that he ever realized where the phrase came from, it was just something he picked up as a young man, most likely in the docks of Mobile and New Orleans. I have often wondered if the French origins of those two cities have anything to do with that saying.