WARNING: Rude metaphors ahead.
This is the original introduction to the world of Victorian Mistress, completely unedited and not even checked for typos. I was asked about my self-editing method and the easiest way to explain it seemed to be to post an example of my unedited work to compare to an edited example.
NOTE: For readers of Victorian Mistress, this story is not canon, although some of the information mentioned reappears in the finished draft some of it was me trying things out and was cut completely from the story. I mention this to avoid confusion.
The edited version of Hysteria is also available.
Bran’s club was in a stately looking building with tall windows and a big black door to intimidate the riff-raff away. I ignored it and walked straight in, so it obviously didn’t work.
The red patterned carpet in the entrance hall was plush and bouncy and I had every intention of skipping across it on a day when it might cause maximum offence. As it was my very presence sent a frisson of disgust through all who saw me, from the gentlemen meandering in the entrance hall or sitting reading newspapers in leather clad armchairs to the red-coated and powdered-wigged servants. Gentlemen’s clubs did not allow women, especially not women like me, and no matter who nice my dress they all knew what I was.
Well, they let me into the visitor’s room at any rate which was a minor miracle. It was a big room full of books and uncomfortable looking chairs that were supposed to discourage visitors from lingering in the vestibule of masculinity. I wondered if they made a man stand at the door to the room when any visitor in was in there.
I didn’t see the point of gentleman’s clubs; all they seemed to do was sit around reading, drinking whiskey and playing chess while pretending they were so much smarter than everyone else. As far as I knew an advanced education was not required to be birthed by a toff.
I wandered along the bookshelves peering at the dry spines of the books, though none of them appeared to have titles. I touched the spine of one to draw it out and the servant cleared his throat.
‘You should get some cocaine for that,’ I said.
Before the servant could reply the door at the opposite end of the room opened and elderly gentleman entered. ‘Oh, leave the girl alone, Wilkins. Nobody else reads the books. Off with you, man.’
Wilkins’ gaze flicked between us, perhaps considering the etiquette for leaving a woman of my standing alone in a room with a man. It didn’t take him very long to decide that I likely spent very little time standing and left.
‘Pay no attention to them. I like a woman with an enquiring mind and our little Paddy says yours is exceptional.’
I inhaled sharply to hold the laugh in my chest. I wasn’t sure what amused me more, that anyone dared call Bran ‘our little Paddy’ or how affectionately the gentleman said it. There was something strangely sweet about it.
‘I never did hold with this delicate women’s minds nonsense. My wife’s was a steel trap.’ His chuckle went haw-haw-haw, if he was any posher he’d choke on his silver spoon. ‘Just as well really, I never had much between the ears.’ A moment later he added quietly, ‘I made up for it between the legs though. Haw-haw-haw.’ I wasn’t sure he realised I could hear him. I wasn’t even sure he realised he’d said it out loud.
I squeezed the book between my hands and focused on pushing the laughter down into a mental box. Regaining control I pulled the book out then turned to face him and curtsied. ‘Thank you, sir.’
‘Yes, yes, yes. Lovely, a vision,’ he said in the same quiet I-think-I’m-saying-this-in-my-head voice. ‘That Brandon’s a lucky old dog.’ Aloud he said, ‘Every time we mention women’s education, Brandon mentions you as a prime candidate. From what he’s said we’ve had three physicians diagnose you with hysteria, a fourth suggested hysterical paroxysm might cure you. Only after he saw you mind.’ He winked. ‘They suggested that for my wife. Haw-haw-haw. What fun.’
‘Expert, are you, sir?’ I asked, crossing towards him as if I was going to sit in one of the armchairs, my face a mask of innocent interest.
His lips tightened as he tried to calculate whether I knew what he was talking about. After a moment he pulled out a pipe and started sucking it without lighting it.
‘It’s simply, sir, that one would wish for expert treatment.’
‘I could write a book on the subject.’
‘I’d be delight to read one if you did, sir.’ I dropped the book to the level of my waist and his eyes followed it then he plucked at his waistcoat. ‘I always enjoy a good read. Mr O’Connor given me so many.’
He flushed so dark I thought he might pass out. ‘Has he really?’
‘Yes, sir, he has a marvellous library.’ I leant across an armchair towards him and whispered wide-eyed, ‘It’s so big, sir.’
His mouth hung open as he tried to work out how to respond.
Bran came in through the same door the gentleman had. ‘I’m so sorry, your grace.’
‘Haw-haw-haw. Most fun I’ve had in years. If I were twenty years younger…’ he said. I suspected he might need more than twenty years shaving off, the man was all but a fossil. ‘What a woman. Shan’t keep you.’ He bent towards me. ‘Wonderful talk, my girl. If any doctors ask about me I wasn’t here.’ Then he strolled out through the other door saying in his not-inside-his-head voice, ‘Saucy minx.’
‘Your grace?’ I asked.
There was a distinct note of red to Bran’s cheeks and I wondered how much he’d heard, all of it most likely. ‘He’s an earl.’
I turned to look towards the door The Earl had left by. ‘Rich is he?’
‘It’s a pity it would kill him,’ I replied and threw myself down into the armchair. ‘A woman could make a lot of money from a man of his resources.’
The note of red in Bran’s cheeks became more than distinct.
‘I don’t know what you’re blushing about.’ I said and flipped open the book but it was naturalist periodicals, all dry academia and no spirit. ‘Apparently you’ve been discussing curing my hysteria with pelvic massage.’
‘I did no such thing,’ he said in the universal tone of I-may-or-may-not-but-I’ve-definitely-thought-about-it.
‘Pity.’ I sighed and dropped the book onto the nearest small table.
‘What’re you doing here, Charlotte?’ Bran said.
I grinned, stepped close and rested my hands against his chest. ‘I missed you.’
He glanced at the door to check no-one was coming, despite the fact he could likely hear them. ‘No, you didn’t.’
‘You’re trying to tell me what I think again.’
He looked down at me, searching for something he seemed unable to find. Nor would he, I was many things and a good liar was top of the list, had I not been I was sure I could’ve upped my game for a hundred guineas a throw. It wasn’t every day I met a rich man who wanted to pay me a hundred guineas a night to share a bed with me and half the time not even have sex. The man had a guilt complex so vast he could’ve kept an entire department at The Vatican employed.
Finally he looked up at the ceiling and sighed. ‘And why would you miss me?’
‘I wonder.’ I stepped away. ‘Of course, if you’d rather sit about drinking whiskey and doing mysterious manly things than spend time with me I would understand.’ I spread my arms. ‘Maybe I’ll let you have at crack at my hysteria.’
He smiled at his shoes. Perhaps my new line of work was making me soft but there was something sweet about his smile. He wasn’t what might be termed an ‘attractive man’, his face was worn in with worry, the lines cut deep making him look older than I suspected he had been when he became a vampire. No, it made him look old. His constantly stooped shoulders and bowed head didn’t help, he even tried to make his hands seem smaller, curling his finger up until they appeared to recede up his sleeves, though I knew perfectly well his suits fitted him.
‘But if you don’t want to…’ I curtsied. ‘I’d better go, they might be worried my womb will go a-wandering and kill them in their liquor induced sleep.’
Bran gave me a look.
I stopped, smiling slightly, and leaned my back against the closed door. ‘You might be surprised what I’d do if someone paid me enough.’
‘Such as?’ he asked.
I bent forward a touch, my fashionable corset didn’t allow for much, and whispered, ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘What do you want?’ he asked.
I shook my head. ‘Bran, that little bit of thieving aside, we’re always doing what I want to do. I’m asking you what you want to do. It’s alright to want to do something.’
For what felt like a very long time he considered me. This, I began to suspect, was a new concept to him. In a year and change I’d never known him ask for anything that he wanted, I wasn’t going to include helping him with his little information gathering business, he needed a thief sometimes and I was the only one he knew.
Nor had he really asked me to move into his house, it was simply an offer after I… had a disagreement with my landlord. I even had to initiate the sex, then he paid me guilt money, I couldn’t quite decide if it was the easiest or most complicated job I’d ever had. When I was dipping pockets and cracking houses there might have been the risk of hanging but the principle of ‘get in, get out, don’t get caught’ was fairly simple, whereas getting Bran to open his trousers was a riddle worthy of a sphinx.
‘I…’ he said so suddenly my hand went to my sleeve where my knife was concealed. ‘I want to go for a walk in the park with you on my arm but people wouldn’t approve.’
I stepped close to him again. ‘Chuckaboo, young women are married off to rich older men all the time. No-one cares.’
His look suggested he thought otherwise.
I took his hand, a serious breach of etiquette in itself, my hand should’ve been placed delicately in the crook of his arm. ‘I spend half my time dressed as a man. Do you think I care?’
‘If I don’t care what people think of me then why should you?’
‘Sweet, but foolish, my delicious noodle.’ I pulled him towards the door by his hand, or, more accurately, I started walking and he followed. ‘Now, we’re going to go for a walk in the park and we’re going to have a lovely time.’
He didn’t object or try to argue his point or anything, aside from follow along after me. I wasn’t of a mind that women should go around changing men but someone needed to help him put a little steel in that spine before he agreed himself into trouble. I had to think of my long-term employment opportunities after all.
NOTE: Between Tuesday and Saturday there will be five articles detailing the main steps I took in my editing process. This relate to my personal style of editing and are in no way definitive.