LONG ISLAND STAYLACE ASSOCIATION
And we thought we knew it!
THE CHAPTER KNOWN AS THE FOURTH
"Now," the other woman said when they reached the bottom of the steps, "you just sit there a moment till I light the lamps." Cinderella, still crying quietly, did as she was told, sitting down on the bottom step—cold even through her mass of skirts and petticoats—while the other woman hurried across the cellar lighting the oil-lamps from the candle she was carrying. Even with all the lamps lit the cellar was a dingy place, but at least it was less ominous when you could see it properly.
"There now," she said, when she had finished. "Now I don’t think we’d better try and lace your stays up till you’ve stopped crying. You calm down and everything’ll be all right."
"Who—" Cinderella gulped tearfully, "who are you?"
"I work in the kitchen, the same as you do."
That wasn’t an answer. "Yes, but why—why did you want to help me?"
A laugh. "Oh, very well, girl, if you must know. My name is Edel, and I was your mother’s maid when she was your age. I came with her from her home when she married and I knew her almost all her life. Then when, well, you know, I was sent below stairs like you, and warned to keep a low profile. That I’ve done: this is the first time I’ve admitted to you that I knew your mother. I don’t care if they dismiss me, I couldn’t let that go on."
"It was—" Cinderella swallowed again, "it was—very kind of you!" Then she sobbed deeply for some time.
Edel put an arm round her shoulders and comforted her. "There, now, just you let it out, and you’ll feel better…"
"Oh, I’m sorry," Cinderella sobbed, "it’s just that sometimes I feel I haven’t any friends at all!"
"Well, that’s what your noble lady stepmother wants, you know. No, don’t start crying, because she hasn’t succeeded—-plenty of the other staff like you, and anyway you’ve got me. But they’re not supposed to like you—anyone Her Ladyship finds is making friends with you is liable to get trouble made for her."
"But what about you?" Cinderella gasped
"I’ll take that risk. Now, do you think you’re ready to lace up again? You must get your breathing calm before you try it!"
"I’ll—I’ll try." Cinderella stood, clutching her corset again to stop it falling off, and walked out into the middle of the room. Edel came up behind her and looked at the laces, tutting. "Good thing she cut them near the hook, dear. Otherwise they might be too short. As it is it’s going to be a near thing—I don’t think you could have laced them again with so little slack. Now then, deep breath, stomach in, bust up, shoulders back, stand tall. There we go!" And for a little while there was silence.
Presently Cinderella, gasping now for quite a different reason, panted "Make sure you—lace me really tight!"
"I shall, dear, don’t you worry. You take after your mother. That’s what she always used to say to me. There! Now, how about that?"
Cinderella moved away as Edel tied off the laces and tried to get an idea of how she was doing. She was used to judging the size of her waist by how far she got across the kitchen flagstones; now she tried to work it out by feeling her rigidly boned bodice, appreciating the sharp inward nip of the stays on her waist. It was hard for her to see, because flesh displaced from below upward by the pressure on her waist had pushed her previously bust up and out until she could hardly see over it. "It feels good. I mean, I can hardly breathe, but that’s right…I wish I had a mirror."
"I’m sure you do, but we don’t. Here, just a minute." Edel bustled off and unlocked a cupboard at the far end of the room. She drew out a large silver tray. "Tch! The butler hasn’t polished this for a while. Well, it’ll have to do. Come on, see if you can see yourself in this."
"Thank you." The tray was rather tarnished and not very smooth, but Cinderella could just about make out her reflection in it. There were no details, but she could get a good idea of how her figure was going, and the answer was very well indeed. "I’m really quite small, aren’t I?"
"You are. You’re interested in training your figure, getting steadily smaller, am I right?"
"Oh, yes! I always say to myself, I can’t dress like a great lady, but there’s nothing to stop me lacing tight…"
"Indeed. Well, I might be able to help you there. Your mother was very demanding, she was always wanting to know the latest cunning trick to get her stays that little bit tighter. That was twenty years ago now, but I think I can say that there is nobody in the kingdom who knows more about forming a girl’s figure with tight corsets than I do. And my knowledge, Miss Cinderella, is entirely at your disposal." She curtsied with all the grace of a Court lady despite her drab kitchen gown.
Cinderella gasped and her heart raced as if about to jump out of the top of her tight leather bodice. "You don’t mean it? Not really?"
"I do mean it. I’ve had just about enough of her up there," and she jabbed a thumb at the ceiling making a sour face as she did so. "You’ve been very badly treated. This isn’t a hundredth of what you’ve been denied, but it’s something I can do."
"Well," Cinderella said with a breathless smile, "what shall I do now?"
"Treat that knife-grinder with some care—he’s not a trustworthy man, and if you’re pretty enough and hard enough to get he’ll think more of you. Don’t you give in to him, you deserve better than that…"
"No, I don’t mean this afternoon, I mean about corseting! You know all these things, so what do you suggest I do next?"
"Well, wear your corset in bed. Tight, twenty-four hours. It makes a lot of difference if you never have to unlace. That’s the first thing. Unlace only when you have to. And the other thing is, don’t ever let anyone from above stairs know."
Cinderella gave a shallow but satisfied sigh. "I see," she said. "Well, can I ask you one more favour before we go back up to work?"
"Certainly. What is it?"
Cinderella turned her back and put her hands on either side of her tightly constricted waist. "Lace me even tighter!"
Chapter Three Chapter Five & Six
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