Continues from chapter one
The Bootmaker turned his attention away from the machine that he was building down the hallway. Countess Alexandra Gladstone deserved his total concentration. The first step in his plan was to make a special pair of boots for her. If he failed, there likely would not be a second step. He slowly raised the six layers of Alexandra’s petticoats to reveal her right leg up to her knee.
He had an impeccable memory, remarkably undiminished by his age. He had recently marked his 80th birthday. In his long career, he had hand-crafted boots for nearly a thousand women, but never had witnessed a leg as perfectly formed as Alexandra’s. Although he wanted to compliment her, he could not do so; certainly not so soon after they had first met.
Memories, however, flashed before him. They were fragments of women he had known, as if from a kaleidoscope.
Her first season. Evening boots in white, a London sidewalk. The body of a young French woman, nude except for her elaborate pink corset. White buttoned gloves reaching beyond her elbows. Wrists bound behind her back with black leather straps. His erect cock. The allure of decadence pulling them together as they made love for the first time. The sound of newsies in the street – their high voices announcing France’s invasion of Spain -- as the well-bred lady asked him to do it again, but this time to fuck her faster.
He could hear Alexandra breathing deeper. Holding the hems of her petticoats with his left hand, he memorized the shape of her leg and made a detailed sketch, his right hand gliding over the parchment as he captured several angles. She was a work of art.
“It won’t be long, Countess Gladstone. I just need to do a quick sketch of your left lower limb,” The Bootmaker said, his voice as low as he could make it while still being heard.
“Yes, sir. Would you be so kind to offer a glimpse into your methods?”
“Of course, Countess Gladstone. It would be an honor.”
As he spoke, The Bootmaker skillfully stole glances at her. She was his ideal of beauty, dark eyes framed by hair best described as amber, a light shade of red he never had seen. Her hair touched her shoulders, which were uncovered by her exquisite dress. Her skin was white, ethereal in its purity.
“I have found that my most vocal detractors are my fellow bootmakers who compete against me. I find that they often compromise on quality in favor of quantity. I understand their obligations to commerce. I’ve always believed that every female lower limb is unique, a gift from our Almighty evermore.
“That is why I take such precise measurements and devote the time needed to make what I hope is the perfect pair of boots for refined ladies such as you.”
Alexandra was pleased by his reference to God. She thought of a prayer as The Bootmaker traced a line from her ankle to the lower part of her thigh. She felt her wrists move slightly, restrained by the black leather cuffs that had helped calm her body. Alexandra felt her breathing quicken and the slow, almost imperceptible movement of her left leg.
“Bootmaker, may I inquire about your gloves?”
He smiled. He looked up, but her eyes were closed. Most of the ladies he had measured in the decades since he had obtained the gloves had not inquired, but some did. The Bootmaker surmised it was because the gloves aroused them.
“Yes, I hope they’re not bringing you any discomfort, Countess Gladstone.”
“Not at all, kind sir.”
“They’re made of a material called latex. I acquired a pair from a friend who works with rubber in Liverpool. The material makes it possible for our skin to not touch while still giving me the ability to capture the contours of the lower limb in my drawings.”
He moved his latex-covered hand higher up her calf.
“Its feel and smell are distinctive,” Alexandra said.
He watched her head recline, giving him a view of her graceful neck. He could smell the scent of her sex and he watched her breasts strain against the whale-bone corset. Alexandra’s arousal was inhibited, though. It resembled a spring rain that passes over swiftly and gives way to bright sunshine.
‘Malleable’ was how Lady Blaylock had described Alexandra to The Bootmaker. Coming from her, it didn’t sound sinister in any way. “Proper, yet ultimately restrained by the repressive dictates of our society, but she could become compliant under your tutelage,” she had said.
“Or she could reshape me,” The Bootmaker had said, drawing a curious look from Lady Blaylock.
Shortly after their talk, Lady Blaylock had arranged for The Bootmaker to meet Alexandra’s husband, Charles. The Bootmaker then made several purchases from Charles’ firm and they had become acquaintances. One night, over absinthe at his gentlemen’s club, Charles had made a reference to the dramatic contrast between his wife in society and in the boudoir. Charles’ death at such a young age was a tragedy, The Bootmaker told himself.
Now, as he finished the final sketch of her left leg, The Bootmaker decided to pose a question to Alexandra. He quickly removed the black leather cuffs from her wrists and lowered the layers of her petticoats.
“Can I make a request, Countess Gladstone?” he asked. She told him to proceed.
“You may have wondered how a bootmaker could amass such wealth to maintain Brunel Hall.”
“I had not considered that.”
The Bootmaker bowed slightly, embarrassed that he may have been presumptuous.
“Although I inherited my trade from my father, he was nearly penniless at the time of his death. As a young man, I began to try to supplement my meager income through inventions.
“What I’d like to confide in you, Countess Gladstone, must remain a secret. I compete with hundreds, if not thousands, of inventors in England, the continent, the Orient and the rest of the world. Can I please count on you to keep my secret?”
“You have my promise,” Alexandra said, intrigued by the start of The Bootmaker’s tale.
“My appreciation. Because of my hard-earned reputation as a bootmaker, I have met many gentlemen and their ladies. Among them was James Watt, a Scotsman and engineer who taught me the basics of the steam engine. I have invented many machines, building on the knowledge he shared with me. I am indebted to him for my enormous wealth.
“I am building an unusual machine to be powered by steam. It’s a monstrosity in its first phase and a source of growing frustration to me. Time is of the essence, for you must depart soon for the railway station. I must make a measurement. If you are agreeable, it will not take more than a minute. I will, however, have to bind your neck, wrists, and ankles.”
Alexandra hesitated, sensing almost a desperation in The Bootmaker’s appeal for help. Curiosity is what led her to agree to his proposition. There were gaping holes in his story. If he was an inventor with enormous wealth, why did he still make boots? Why could he not use his butler for the measurement he needed?
For now, she kept her questions to herself. Rising from the chair, she gave her consent to The Bootmaker’s request. He took her left gloved hand and led her into the hallway. The chamber was toward the end of the darkened passageway. Unlocking the door, The Bootmaker told Alexandra to wait in the hallway as he lit several candles.
Entering the massive chamber, Alexandra screamed. Jarred by the loudness, The Bootmaker rushed to catch her as she fainted. He was amazed at how light she felt in his arms, but foremost on his mind was what had caused her to scream.
The Bootmaker lifted her onto the table, which was similar to a physician’s examining table. He made sure Alexandra was breathing. He knew that most people recovered within a minute or two. As he waited, he took the cover off part of the machine that was under construction.
Alexandra’s eyes opened. She seemed dazed, the expression on her face showing that she had been startled.
“Who is that little man?” she asked.
The Bootmaker stifled a smile. He wanted to laugh, but knew she would find that rude.
“That’s George. He’s not a man. He’s an automaton. I built him.”
“Let’s just say he is a trusted assistant. I apologize for startling you.”
Quickly, he placed the leather collar around her neck and attached two chains from the D-ring to the table. He also anchored the restraints for her wrists and ankles to the table.
As The Bootmaker had designed, Alexandra could not see him quickly extend the piston toward the table. Even with the dress on, he easily could measure the gap between the heights of the piston and her sex. When finished, he quickly returned the piston to its usual location and covered the machine.
“I’m finished, Countess Gladstone. Thank you for your assistance.”
He parried her questions about the machine he was building as he released the collar and restraints. He handed the ankle boots to her and waited for her to slip them on and tie the laces.
“I’m reluctant to say a word until I’m confident of success. And if I am, I believe it will have great utility.”
His appreciation for Alexandra was heartfelt in his farewell.
“It will be six months before I finish your boots. I shall write to you, inviting you to return for a fitting – and hopefully my machine will be finished along with a second one I’m designing.”
Alexandra accepted his hand to help her mount the carriage. Watching the wheels spin on the gravel drive, he silently exalted. Returning to his fireplace, he had a glass of champagne, fell into a deep sleep, and dreamed of a young woman with amber hair. He woke with a start. In the dream, she was standing at the side of a grave as someone shoveled dirt onto the coffin.
Alexandra studied her reflection in the window of the railcar spiriting her back to London. It was dark and the wind began to howl as the train departed Blackpool.
The visit to The Bootmaker had pleased her. It wasn’t just the prospect of acquiring a special pair of boots from a master craftsman. She never had met an inventor. She wanted to know more about science, the details behind the changes that she saw all around her in society. Perhaps she could learn from him.
She did not dwell on the excitement caused by the older man’s touch. A man had not touched her since the death of her husband. The sexual arousal she felt from The Bootmaker’s innocent touches was natural; she had spoken discreetly with ladies whose husbands incorporated more personal touches in the art of seduction, even taking their lady’s toes and feet into their mouths.
Alexandra was thinking of a ball she planned to attend when a large, older woman sat across from her. The woman wore a plain gray and green check dress and her face was nondescript.
“My condolences on your loss,” the woman said.
On Sundays, the day of her husband’s death, Alexandra wore a veil in public and a black satin dress.
The woman offered a card to Alexandra as her introduction.
Mrs. Thomas Foucault, president,
The Ladies’ Collective for the Preservation of Chastity
Alexandra immediately recognized the name of the group as the one Lady Blaylock had mentioned. She frowned as Mrs. Foucault leaned toward her.
“Countess Gladstone, I would appreciate a brief audience with you.”
“How do you know my name?”
It was clear to Mrs. Foucault that there would be no pleasantries with the 21-year-old countess. Mrs. Foucault had not expected any, knowing where Alexandra had been.
“We are aware that you have visited Mr. Brunel today.”
“Who are ‘we’?”
“Members of the Collective, of course. We have members throughout England and spies in several foreign countries.”
Alexandra was disturbed by the statement. Following Lady Blaylock’s advice without hesitation, she did not confirm anything.
“I suspect you are unaware of Mr. Brunel’s true character. He is a deviant whose family is originally from France and has caused many women to fall. You appear to be the latest on his list.”
“What does your group want from me?”
“We want to warn you against any further contact with Mr. Brunel. My organization is well aware of his moniker, ‘The Bootmaker.’ He uses this vocation as a way to arouse sexual desire in ladies that is unnatural. After all, the sole purpose of sexuality is to enable a gentleman to reproduce in the image of God.”
Alexandra felt a rare anger – white-hot and directed at the abrasive woman in front of her.
“Leave me alone and do not approach me ever again.”
Mrs. Foucault’s jowls rose and fell, surprised by the sudden intensity of Alexandra’s anger. Alexandra saw the same emotion in Mrs. Foucault’s eyes.
“I will leave you with a slim volume that I invite you to study,” said Mrs. Foucault, placing the pamphlet on the seat next to Alexandra. She glanced at the cover showing the title, “The Angel in the House.”
Aware of the poem by Coventry Patmore – “Man must be pleased; but him to please is woman’s pleasure” – Alexandra picked up the pamphlet and threw it at Mrs. Foucault. It glanced off her back. She turned to glare at Alexandra and picked it up off the floor.
Mrs. Foucault did not say a word. Despite Alexandra’s request, she had every intention of speaking again with the young countess. Her cause, she reminded herself, was too important.
Upon her return to London, Alexandra busied herself with preparations for the ball that Lady Blaylock was hosting. She would not allow Mrs. Foucault or The Ladies’ Collective for the Preservation of Charity to consume her thoughts. There was little risk of that, for she had received a card that morning requiring her attention.
The date approaches when I must advise you on the status of your real property holdings. As you will recall, the bank offers this service once a year and more often if you so request. Please advise whether you can accept my company on the morning of Oct. 23. It will not require more than 15 minutes of your time.
Yours in Service
Sir Elliot Walter
The Bank of England
Alexandra always was pleased to see the card of Sir Elliot. The cover featured a hand-colored etching of two couples enjoying each other’s company in a park with a train in the background powered by a steam engine; the Great Northern Railway being the source of his family’s enormous wealth. Alexandra wrote a brief response accepting his invitation and one of her servants delivered it.
Sir Elliot was among London’s most eligible bachelors. Tall, with a slender build, he had emerald green eyes, a keen intellect, and interests ranging from high finance to science.
Under the law of primogeniture, Charles had been the sole owner of real property. Alexandra legally was entitled to one-third of the value of her husband’s estate upon his death. Because Charles had been an only child and his parents were deceased, he had left Alexandra all of his real property; their stately residence in London and a large farm in Wales.
On the day of Sir Elliot’s visit, Alexandra received him in her drawing room. He had a gift for conversation, in part because of his vast knowledge of etiquette. She found Sir Elliot to be pleasing. He had been in the recent presence of Queen Victoria at a meeting of the Royal Society of Arts and his account was informative, interesting and very appropriate. He reviewed the real property that she owned and how much it had appreciated in value over the past year.
Alexandra was attentive. When he was finished, she said she looked forward to attending Lady Blaylock’s ball at his invitation.
Alexandra smiled and nodded. Fifteen minutes had passed. Sir Elliot rose and bid his farewell.
The ball was held two days later. It was private and held in the large hall at the Blaylock residence on the northern edge of Kensington Gardens. Alexandra had purchased a new pink gown for the occasion, made of the finest muslin. She wore a white flower in her hair that matched the color of her gloves and satin boots.
As expected, Sir Elliot was punctual. He had told Alexandra they would arrive fashionably late, an hour after the appointed time. He had ordered a carriage and Alexandra was accompanied by her mother. He handed her in first, then Alexandra, and sat opposite them. Before long, they had arrived at the Blaylocks’ residence. The master and mistress greeted them outside the hall. Sir Elliot escorted Alexandra and her mother to the ladies’ dressing room.
It was Lady Blaylock who gave the order for the orchestra to commence and led the attendees into the hall. Sir Elliot escorted Alexandra to her seat and introduced her to his friends after securing a program for her. He danced the first set with Alexandra and then yielded to a friend, knowing there was a long list of gentlemen on her card for the list of dances.
Alexandra loved to dance. She was scrupulous in not favoring any one of her partners, although clearly some were more graceful than others. Her pleasure, however, was accompanied by fatigue. After two hours, she took a seat, feeling short of breath. She looked around for her mother, but could not find her.
Although it was poor form to leave the hall alone, Alexandra felt an exception could be made in this circumstance. Walking down a long hallway, she thought she heard her mother’s voice in the sitting room, but entering it, she found it occupied but her mother was not there. It was then that she heard the voice of Sir Elliot in the adjacent room and the sound of a woman sighing.
Alexandra opened the door and ducked behind a large four-panel room divider. She could hear Sir Elliot talking to the woman, but she could not discern his words. Moving closer to the screen’s edge, she could see him and Lady Blaylock. She was laying on a settee, her gown and corset lowered to reveal her breasts. Her bloomers had been removed. Sir Elliot knelt over her, his cock fully erect as he slipped inside her and moved his hips to go in deep.
Alexandra’s first impulse was to turn her head, but she did not. There was disbelief that her friend was having sex with a man who was not her husband. Lady Blaylock had confided in Alexandra that her husband was impotent, but she never had even hinted at taking a lover. How could she? Scandal would ruin her if word spread.
What prevented Alexandra from turning away was the excitement of watching Sir Elliot pleasure Lady Blaylock and her decision to defy society’s standard that a husband could take a mistress, but a wife could not take a lover.
Alexandra left the room after ten minutes as the lovers approached climax. She didn’t know if she could stifle a sigh of desire that would lead her to be detected. She couldn’t run the risk of embarrassing Lady Blaylock through her voyeurism.
The proper etiquette was to call at the house a week after the ball to compliment the hostess on who she had invited and how much pleasure they had offered. Alexandra told Lady Blaylock about her visit to The Bootmaker. But she could not tell Lady Blaylock that she had made a decision after watching her and Sir Elliot make love – a decision that would change her life, and that of The Bootmaker, forever.
Continues in chapter three