The Further Adventures of Louis and Elle
Chapter Five — Victorian Diversions.
It had been a long day writing for Louis Wentworth. He knocked gently on his wife’s study door, hoping for a conversation—and perhaps more—that would give him a bit of energy for the coming evening.
“Come in,” Elle said. He entered and saw her reading a huge old book. He couldn’t make out the title.
“What are you reading?”
“It’s a series of essays on the history of hypnosis,” Elle replied. “There are some really interesting accounts of the early days of stage hypnotism, when it was known as ‘mesmerism’ or ‘magnetism.’ Can you imagine what it must have been like to be in the audience for one of those?”
“To be honest, I don’t have the energy to imagine anything except a martini and old movies on cable tonight,” Louis said.
“Oh, Louis, don’t be silly,” his wife said. She leaned forward and looked him in the eyes. As always, she captured this attention. In her ordinary working attire—fitted pencil skirt, hose and businesslike heels, white blouse unbuttoned far enough to show a hint of lace—she was stunning, both sexy and powerful. “Of course you can! You have the best imagination I know. Just close your eyes for a moment and imagine you are in Victorian London—just for a minute, just close them . . . .”
This morning we encounter Mr. Wentworth taking his mid-morning coffee at the Scribes Club near the Strand. On this morning he had every reason to regard his lot in life as indeed a fortunate one. The son of an impoverished country curate, Mr. Wentworth—“Louis” to his intimates—had parlayed a ready mind into matriculation at Oxford. Through diligent study, he had procured a first-class degree; but at the same time, through his wit and good nature, he had won the friendship and indeed the potential patronage of a number of the more aristocratic—and, alas, often less diligent—portion of his former classmates. Indeed, on more than one occasion, it was confidentially reported, Lord Fangorn, second son of no less a worthy than the Duke of Mirkwood, had remarked within the hearing of the Prince of Wales that Mr. Wentworth was “a capital chap” and one he was “glad to know.”
At the same time, Mr. Wentworth’s habits of diligence had resulted, in the years since he “went down” from University, in a literary reputation many could envy. While he was not Mr. Dickens or Mr. Trollope, nor yet even Mr. Collins or Mrs. Gaskell, still “Louis Wentworth” was what booksellers respectfully called a Name, one whose annual three-volume novel produced a ready subscription even in advance of publication. Sales were gratifying but, alas, not quite enough to produce a living for a man about London; but his reputation also obtained for him a steady stream of commissions for essays and reviews from such outlets as THE DAILY SATURN, THE FLANEUR, and RADAGAST’S POPULAR WEEKLY, and the income from these productions more than sufficed to cover his literary expenses and allow him to remit a small sun to his widowed mother, who was eking out her clerical pension in the wilds of the Vale of Taunton where she had passed her diligent married years.
Despite the diligence of his days, Mr. Wentworth enjoyed social encounters of all sorts, from evenings drinking port with former classmates to convivial dinners with the families of many of his friends. Indeed, on the day in question, he was dwelling with a mixture of amusement and mild pique on the dinner conversation during his most recent visit to the household of his friend, Gordon Dimrill, the son of a prosperous City merchant who set a most satisfactory table. The pleasures of this table were rendered no less striking by the presence at dinner of Gordon’s sister Eleanor, a year his junior, a young woman whose charms were manifold but whose acerbity was leavened with a good nature that almost seemed, on occasion, dangerously close to flirtation.
On the occasion remarked of, the talk had turned to Mesmerism, the new craze among polite society. Mr. Wentworth (or, as we, having now been introduced to him, shall call him, “Louis”) had not had the pleasure of attending such a séance, but, being a University man and a popular author, he did not let the mere absence of knowledge or experience prevent him from possessing firm opinions. In this case, he dismissed the reality of “mesmeric influence” as simply the unfortunate tendency of British society to fall into patterns of hierarchy and deference based on class and education. “Of course those in the audience fall into obedience to the mesmerist,” he explained. “They are of the servant or working classes, used to obedience to the educated and well-spoken. They might be persons of more than ordinary firmness of will among their own, but confronted with such a mighty figure, they have little choice but to succumb and behave as the mesmerist asks them to. The idea of some sort of occult influence is hardly necessary to explain that; it is a mere metaphor for our rather tawdry daily life here on this island.”
At these words, Miss Dimrill’s eyes flashed in a manner that was at once entirely pleasing and also somewhat foreboding. For all that she lacked the opportunity to sally forth into the literary world like Mr. Wentworth, Miss Dimrill was a woman of wide reading and firm opinions, of whom her father had more than once remarked that she was “strong willed” and that man who captured her affections would need more than ordinary fortitude to resist her opinions, inclinations, and indeed whims.
“Is that a fact, Mr. Wentworth?” said this beauty on the occasion in question. “And what of the extensive literature reporting that mesmeric influence not only exists but is capable of preventing pain and indeed effecting cures of long-standing medical conditions? Surely you don’t conceive that Papa here can summon Bombur, the butler, and command him to be rid of his rheumatism? Bombur is the soul of appropriate deference, but his ability to obey hardly extends to simply willing himself back to health, surely?”
“My dear Miss Dimrill,” Mr. Wentworth replied with a smile that slightly stayed beyond the boundaries of good-natured regard and trod dangerously close to the forbidden territory of condescension, “we must, I think, maintain an appropriate attitude of skepticism toward these third-hand accounts of profound influence and physical command. Far more likely, I regret to say, is that the ‘mesmerist’ brings with him his own subjects and salts them in the audience, whence they venture onstage to proclaim themselves ‘cured’ of conditions that no physician had ever actually detected in them. All in all, a diversion—but one that is shaped by and mimics the besetting class snobbery of our time and place.”
As if she knew herself bested, Miss Dimrill had lapsed into a sullen silence, though as she spooned her blancmange she might have been heard by an alert auditor to be muttering, “perhaps we shall see about that.”
The memory was far from disagreeable. Mr. Wentworth was confident he had given no lasting offense to the lovely Miss Dimrill, of whose company, it must be admitted, he grown most peculiarly fond. So, as we said, Mr. Wentworth was feeling quite at one with the world on this particular morning; and this feeling was in no way dissipated by the arrival of a letter, borne into his presence by one of the Club’s powdered and wigged servants, that bore the novel return address of THE GORMENGHAST QUARTERLY, a publication of which he had never heard. Indeed, when the servant carried him a letter opener, Mr. Wentworth was further gratified to be greeted with the following effusive missive:
Dear Mr. Wentworth,
On behalf of our newly founded literary quarterly, kindly accept my congratulations on your achievements to date in your career as novelist and writer. During my years as a sub-editor on THE DAILY JUPITER, I often felt bitter envy toward the staff of THE DAILY SATURN, because they had managed to obtain your services as a reviewer and general observer of modern life. I am writing to ask humbly whether you would be willing to assay a piece of work for our new publication. Naturally we understand that a man of your stature cannot undertake to write on a ‘spec’ basis, and we are prepared on this occasion to guarantee you a payment of £50 if you will undertake for us a brief account, to a length of, shall we say, 2,500 words, of a visit to the upcoming exhibition of “Professor” Murphy, the “Sensation of Shropshire,” who is bringing his alleged display of mesmerism, phrenology, and magnetism for the first time to audiences in London. The show is tomorrow, and I take the liberty of enclosing herewith a ticket for you and another for a friend provided with the compliments of the theatre management. The exhibition will take place at the Theatre des Reves, just off the Aldwych, at 8 p.m. tomorrow. If this proposition is agreeable to you, no answer is required and we shall regard the matter as settled. In any case, let me reiterate my pleasure at having the honor of corresponding with you, and the fervent wish that I may hope one day for a meeting, and remainYr. Obdt Svt,Septimus TreebeardEditor
The proposition certainly met with the young author’s approbation. Of course, as was aforesaid, he approached exhibitions of the mesmeric art with a touch of the skeptic. But it could not be gainsaid that £50 was a pleasing emolument, one that would free him for the entire summer to write his forthcoming novel without cluttering his workbench with accounts of race meetings, cricket-matches, and the reliably deplorable condition of the working classes. And with an eye toward the additional ticket, he at once jotted a note to his friend Mr. Dimrill asking him to accompany him to the entertainment, thinking to himself that this would afford that gentleman the opportunity of transmitting first-hand to his engaging sister how the events of the evening bore out Mr. Wentworth’s statements at dinner. Within a few hours, the post brought George Dimrill’s acceptance, and thus the matter was concluded.
The next night found the two gentlemen, resplendently attired, at the intimate Theatre des Reves (of whose very existence Mr. Wentworth had, until this evening, been unaware), where they were obsequiously ushered to positions in the front row with an excellent view of the stage. Mr. Wentworth, having asked the theatrical impresario whether he might be able to secure an interview with the “mesmerist” at the conclusion of the séance, was assured that “Dr. Murphy” would be pleased to welcome him to his dressing room after the final curtain. Thus situated, the young men prepared themselves for an evening of witnessing—and exposing—absurdity.
Nor had they long to wait, for precisely on the count of eight, the gaslights in the theater dimmed and the footlights glowed brighter, and without introducing the famed “Dr. Murphy” stepped from behind the curtain.
Louis was at once struck by the absurdity of the figure cut by this worthy. For one thing, he was clearly quite young—indeed, as slight and graceful as a well-grown boy. The “Doctor” wore at his neck an almost comically large and colorful neck cloth, such that both Louis and Gordon Dimrill felt the impulse to laugh. Nor was the impression dispelled when the performer opened his mouth, for his voice was of a melodious but rather high pitch, and he spoke with a pronounced countryman’s accent—a pattern of speech that echoed with the sounds of the far North, near the Scottish border and concomitantly far from Oxford, Cambridge, and Bloomsbury.
In these amusing tones, the “doctor” lectured his audience about the supposed scientific proof of the validity of mesmerism, as well as of the startling new insights offered by phrenology, the careful study of the depressions and protuberances of the skull, which, properly interpreted, revealed much if not all of the character of the possessor of the head. Mr. Wentworth carefully noted the “doctor’s” claims in his pocket notebook, for he had no intention of misrepresenting that worthy’s claims for his art.
The entertainment began when the “doctor” asked an audience member to come and blindfold him securely. Once blinded, the doctor was then able to inform the audience of the card chosen from a deck of cards by another volunteer, and indeed to guess the page and line of a book that had been jotted down and placed in an envelope by yet another of the crowd.
Then, without removing the blindfold, the “doctor” addressed the crowd in his not-unpleasant if absurd accents: “Now that you have seen some of the power of the mind, I wish to move into a demonstration of the serious sciences in which the Tibetan lamas instructed me during my sojourn in that forbidden kingdom—phrenology and mesmerism. But before we begin, my study of the etheric energy in the auditorium convinces me that there is one powerful intellect among us which is wracked by doubt, which is unprepared to believe in the power of the magnetic principle, and indeed which hopes to obtain renown and profit by unveiling me and my sciences as fraudulent. If one of you will guide me, I will come into the audience and let the ether guide me to this individual and then, with luck, convince even this skeptic of the reality of the phenomena we are studying tonight.”
A volunteer was soon forthcoming, and the ‘doctor’ descended from the stage into the orchestra. At first Mr. Wentworth felt a touch of concern about this quest for the skeptic; but as the “doctor” wandered the hall aimlessly, he concluded that the entire exhibition was entirely for show and that the performer no more knew his attitude toward mesmerism than did the Sultan of Turkey.
At length the “doctor” seemed ready to confess failure. With a dejected posture, he asked his volunteer to remove the blindfold and began to stroll back to the stage with an air of discomfiture. However, at the last minute, he stopped, wheeled in place, and looked so directly at Mr. Wentworth that he very nearly started out of his chair. “Why, yes, sir, it is you!” said the performer, striding toward Louis and offering his hand. “Come with me and together we will decide whether your doubts are justified.”
Applause broke out. And while Louis felt the most profound inclination to refuse, he realized he could not with honesty accept the cheque proffered by the new magazine if he neglected such a golden opportunity to investigate the reality or lack thereof of mesmerism. Slowly he rose from the chair, briefly acknowledged the approbation of the audience, and walked with the performer up to the stage, where a chair was awaiting him.
“We will begin with phrenological analysis,” Dr. Murphy piped in his tenor voice, “and I will produce an analysis of the gentleman’s character by an examination of the shape and conformation of his skull. Unless I am mistaken, you are here with a friend and companion, are you not?”
Gordon Dimrill, still in the audience, half rose from his seat and rather stiffly nodded in acknowledgement of his role.
“Perhaps this gentleman will do me the honor of informing me afterwards of the accuracy of my analysis, if any.” Again, Gordon nodded.
“Now, please remain still and relaxed for the few moments of my phrenological explanation,” the doctor said. His hands began to explore Mr. Wentworth’s skull. The subject of these investigations conceded to himself that the doctor’s ministrations were agreeably skilled, producing a sensation of comfort and relaxation. Indeed, Mr. Wentworth realized that he had hitherto been unaware of the tension in his scalp until the doctor’s skillful fingers began to dissipate it.
“Please try not to let your mind fixate on any subject,” the doctor said, lightly brushing the skill. “I sense that the organ of language is exceedingly developed, as is the bump governing sociability. Indeed, amativeness is also strongly marked, and both are connected by a ridge indicating wit. I am going to hazard a guess that the possessor of this magnificent skull is a—no, no, sir, please remain still and try to empty your mind—yes, I had at first thought a schoolteacher but instead it is clear that your trade is not in minds but in words themselves, that you are an author. Am I correct?”
“Remarkable!” he heard Gordon Dimrill exclaim. “What else do you deduce?”
“Hmm!” said the doctor, “highly educated, strong humor, a fondness for walking and the country, but unless I am mistaken, you do not shoot, do you, sir? No, no need to speak, simply raise a hand in agreement, well done, sir. You grew to manhood in the country, and now live in or near Tavistock Square, is that correct?”
“Extraordinary!” said Gordon Dimrill, starting out of his chair. The subject of the analysis himself ventured no response, for in truth the massaging influence of the doctor’s fingers had produced an agreeable sensation of calm and repose, and Mr. Wentworth could feel his mind floating away from the present entertainment to many bright and glittering ideas for his writing, which he could not help pursuing like a traveler lured off his intended path by the seductive light of the will o’the wisp, led step by step into the marshes until he finds himself inescapably enmeshed and dragged to the bottom. He was so concentrated on that task of memory that he did not, in fact, notice that the doctor now had told the audience that he was moving on into the mesmeric portion of the evening.
The gentle massage of his scalp now gave way to a sensation of electricity, as he felt rather than saw the doctor’s hands pass from the crown of his skull to a point below his chin. And curiously, the doctor’s voice—so comically unsophisticated, seeming to emanate from a background far beneath that of a literary gentleman of London—now, without changing a bit in its tone or accent, seemed to acquire a depth and timbre unlike any voice he had ever heard, until it came to dominate his very consciousness and even to displace the thoughts floating through his mind.
“Wake up!” the doctor’s voice said. Mr. Wentworth’s eyes popped open, and he knew he had an important part to play in the evening’s entertainment. Without hesitation he rose from his chair and ventured into the audience. He stopped and asked each onlooker, with the most earnest air of supplication, to come to the stage and take part in the entertainment as well. He heard his voice most eloquently promising each participant an evening of entertainment and pleasure, and soon enough he had convinced an even dozen of the crowd to follow him onstage, where chairs had now been placed for them all.
When they were seated, the doctor addressed them, reminding them of the phrenological marvels and mesmeric effects they had already witnessed. As she described the effect of magnetism on Mr. Wentworth, he found his eyes closing and his mind floating again into that agreeable space in which only the absurd little doctor’s voice existed. Because his eyes were thus closed, he missed seeing his fellow volunteers each in turn fall under the doctor’s mesmeric influence. In his awareness was only the doctor’s voice and in his mind only the utmost concentration and a need to understand exactly what the doctor wanted him to do.
He listened calmly while the voice bade him rise from his chair and shadow-box, then fish in a tub of water from which he keenly expect to pull a whale. Then he incuriously noticed that the doctor had produced a somewhat ill-assorted lady’s outfit, including striped petticoats, a pink skirt, a most daring lace bustier, and rose-pink silk slippers for his dainty feet. All of this he was convinced easily to don, operating now under the fixed idea that he was in fact a demure young lady who was being subjected to the rather bold advances of the doctor himself, and who shrank back in alarm from the performer’s manly attentions. And the truth was that in Mr. Wentworth’s breast this encounter began to stir most unfamiliar but far from disagreeable feelings of submission and receptivity, such that he eagerly complied with even the most absurd suggestions the doctor’s voice now gave him, dancing a waltz with the mesmerist and then performing a rather risqué can-can to the delight of the audience, secretly nurturing a hope that his movements had appealed to the manly passions in the “doctor’s” breast.
Then, with a few words, the doctor returned our hero to himself, and he found himself onstage as the subject of approval and ridicule by those who had witnessed his participation in the séance. Flushing red, he scuttled to his seat, collected his hat, and, with a brusque mumble to his companion George, prepared to flee the scene of his embarrassment. However, this plan was foiled by the officious intermeddling of the theatrical employee, who informed him that the “doctor” was, as arranged, awaiting him in the dressing room. He realized that he would be unable to write anything for the QUARTERLY if he fled the scene now, and so agreed to visit backstage, his companion trailing along beside him.
They found the “doctor” quite at his ease, drinking hock and soda-water and regarding the two of them with an almost insolent air of triumph. “Well, Mr. Wentworth of the QUARTERLY? Are you here to expose me as a fraud? Stop dithering and come sit next to me.” With a negligent sweep of his arm, the doctor indicated an ottoman near him, and Mr. Wentworth, without a thought, obediently seated himself there, though he noted as he did so that it put him in a position well below the mesmerist, indeed in a position that almost suggested subjection and supplication. Indeed, with a start of shame, Mr. Wentworth admitted to himself that he did feel somewhat beneath, even inferior to, this absurd countryman with his piping rural accent and his ridiculous colorful neck cloth. The outlandish little man held Mr. Wentworth’s attention in a psychic grip of iron, and indeed the feelings that were stirring in his breast caused him almost a sense of alarm, as he realized that his will had been taken prisoner and that if the mesmerist were to ask him the most alarming service he would be without will or power to resist.
Indeed, the doctor now gently patted Mr. Wentworth’s head as if he were an amusing pet dog. He turned his insolent regard on George Dimrill, and in an exaggerated drawl said, “As for you, sir, I suggest that you wish more than anything else to take a stroll on the Embankment, then proceed straight home and go straight to bed. Run along.”
Without a word, without a flicker of expression, Mr. Dimrill took his hat and coat and departed, leaving his friend to the tender mercies of the mesmerist.
“Now,” said the performer. “Mr. Wentworth, I suggest that your will is now mine, and that your mind and body are now mine as well. I am your master and you will give yourself to me without any reservation.”
Mr. Wentworth found his head nodding. The little man stood and moved closer, so that he loomed over Mr. Wentworth, filling his vision as his word echoed in his victim’s mind. “You are mine and I will now take your body and use it for my pleasure and not only will you not resist, you are most eager to give me the free run of your body, you are my little girl and I am your master. Now remove your clothes at once.”
In a process that seemed to take hours of dreamy time, Mr. Wentworth undid his neck cloth, then removed his silk waistcoat, his tight shirt, and his braces and trousers, his spats, and his boots, until he stood before the strangely powerful little man stark naked, knowing he would be unable to resist any carnal demand this odd figure would demand of him, and not only be unable to resist but would be thrilled to comply with even the most degrading suggestion offered by his captor.
Now the doctor stood before him and moved quite close while he removed his braces and his trousers, and then undid his waistcoat and shirt to reveal a singular sight—for beneath the shirt, strapped close to the body, the “doctor” sported a most generous and, let it be said, comely pair of female breasts, which now bounced freely in front of Mr. Wentworth’s entranced eyes. And he now noted that the doctor’s boyish, form was not simply slender but was pleasingly curved and entirely feminine.
The “doctor” then reached behind her head and unpinned her hair, revealing a tawny blonde mane, and passed a hand in front of Mr. Wentworth’s eyes, saying, “Look!” And with that, as if a cloud had rolled away from his vision, Mr. Wentworth recognized his erstwhile dinner companion Miss Dimrill, who now took the opportunity to ask him whether he still believed that mesmerism was an artificial illusion created by class snobbery.
Mr. Wentworth, however, was unable to reply, and indeed incapable of taking any action that was not commanded by his charming tormentor. She laughed at him most merrily and then stepped forward and blew gently on his forehead. At once, as if feeling a gale-force wind, Mr. Wentworth was hurled flat on his back at the feet of Miss Dimrill, who now straddled him and grasped his erection, thrusting it into herself with a sound of satisfaction.
“Louis,” she said. “You don’t matter. Only I matter. And so you will have no pleasure until I allow you, while I plan to use you for my own satisfaction. That will thrill you. That is your reason for being.” Slowly she rode up and down on him until with a guttural sound of satisfaction she orgasmed. Then she turned around until she was straddling him but facing his feet, and rode him again until her pleasure sounded even more loudly. Then with a mesmeric pass she fastened his head and shoulders to the floor, and moved up until she was athwart his face, and instructed him in proper use of his tongue for a third satisfaction.
Then she sat comfortably in a chair looking down at her thrall, and said, “When I count to three you will lose control even though I am not touching you. . . . One, Two, Three!”
Remarkably, Mr. Wentworth spurted into the air. He was unable to look away from his captor or to resist any of her commands. She stood over him in triumph and said, “Are you still convinced mesmerism is a fraud, Mr. Wentworth?”
He mustered only enough firmness to shake his head “no.”
“You will find that the mesmeric influence, once applied, is of great persistence, Mr. Wentworth,” she said. “From now on, you are my plaything as I choose. You find this most amusing, don’t you? That’s why you are laughing uncontrollably.”
Louis laughed so heartily that he thought he would lose control of his bladder, but his mistress allowed him to fall silent before that unpleasant accident could occur.
“Sleep now,” she said, making a mesmeric pass.
. . . “What?” Louis said to Elle. “I’m sorry, I lost you there for a second. You were saying something about old-time hypnotism?”
“Was I?” She arched an eyebrow. It was adorable. He had the impulse to fall to the ground and kiss her feet, but he had something he needed to do.
“Where are you going?” she asked as he walked away.
“Um . . . back to the office, I have something I need to write,” he said.
As the door closed, Elle gave her charming but slightly predatory smile. She was looking forward to THE CHRONICLES OF DOCTOR MURPHY.