I was perhaps nine years of age at the time this all started. I was innocently minding my own business crawling around the back streets of Toronto at the time. It wasn't like I could use the main streets being a street waif. The bloodly Londoner street kids had made orphans like myself a regular commodity.
Years ago before the sudden march of street kids from London a boy such as myself could have possibly found a nice home. Now a days there just was too many that got shipped off to work farms or houses as little more than slave labor. A bed of straw, clothes once a month, bath about the same unless you count the rain.
Truth be told I was waiting to see if Polly was going to sneak out of the Baker home for girls again. I was a bit sweet on her. She was a waif like myself but from someplace between Ireland and Scotland but was, apparently, not either of them. She was very picky about that. She was one of the few girls that had long hair. Long golden red hair. I know it's not the name for it but it was the best description. It was red but also somewhat golden at the same time and it went to her waist.
I had a thing for hair as my own hair was quite long as well. I used oil on it regularly and trimmed it best I could with my knife. It was long enough to swing around my head and lay flat on a piece of wood where my sharp knife could cut it even. It was not really a knife but a bit of metal I had found and sharpened on a rock then a bit of broken leather reins as a strop. I used the strop leather as the handle for it when not using it to sharpen it. Quite smart if I say so myself.
The other street boys commonly called me a girl because of my slight frame and long dark red hair. I was not a girl but I was mistaken for one quite a bit by the adults. The amount of times some lady would admonish me for being dressed so vagrantly in boys clothing I could count on both hands three times over.
I suppose I could have cut it off or shaved it off like some of the street kids do but it was the one thing I had from me mam. She had died during a fire at the slop house she worked at. Being an only child of a grass widow in our time of 1882 was horrible. I was shipped off to an overcrowded orphanage straight away. Mam had always loved my hair and would brush it in our one room flat every night. It makes me feel special to brush my hair every night before I fall asleep in some corner. During winter I would find a hidey hole above some house with shavings. It was usually warm if a bit dusty. Most places had a small chimney for airing the lofts that I could just squeeze through.
I was never without company as many a mice had woken up on me or nibbling my leathers. Buried under the shavings I could sometimes hear some neat things. Other times it was just barely warm enough. One and awhile I could even get into the houses from the attic entrance and nick myself a meal or two. I was always careful to only grab what was plenty in storage and never from an icebox.
Still I survived which is better than some of the street kids. They would get caught and shipped off to the workhouses in winter or some would just die from the cold. There was always more to replace them. The girls would get all coddled in their fancy dresses in the houses. Many would end up as maids or when they came of breeding age wet nurses with children of their own.
That was the good ones. The bad ones didn't last long before they caught something and died servicing the men. The really pretty ones like Polly would sometimes get adopted into right and proper families.
Like I said I was minding my own business when out of the house rushes poor Polly all disheveled. I knew something was up for sure as she came a running around the bend in the path. I snuck out of my hiding spot enough to grab her arm and pull her in. I asked her what was a going on and she told me. She had received a letter in the mail a day ago telling her that her Aunt Petunia had returned to find her mother was dead. Apparently her Aunt had been abroad someplace for a year or two.
The short story is that her Aunt was on her way to Canada to come claim her and take her back with her. However another family had taken a shine to Polly and had already put in adoption papers to the effect. As part of the adoption her name was to change as well. She did not tell me what the name was to be as she didn't know. She had run from the home when she had found out about it.
Polly was crying and on the edge of hysterics. As she hugged me she stepped back suddenly calm and looked at me rather strangely. Before I knew it she was dragging me to the home. It would seem that the rest of the home had gone to a local church or some such leaving Polly alone to get ready for her new parents arrival. I asked her why she did not refuse. Something I didn't know was that parents pay for children. Children in high demand such as Polly were even more expensive.
The family that had adopted her had payed a whopping sum of $30 for her. I thought this was outrageously expensive and stated such. Polly turned around with her hands on hips and put on airs saying she was worth more than that. Women!
Once inside Polly insisted I take a bath as I apparently stunk. I didn't smell anything and told her such. She was adament about it though and I was soon washing myself in a bathtub with rose petal water that was actually warm. It was my first experience with hot water from a tap. I didn't know it at the time but the upper story of the home had a large basin filled with water that was on continous heat. Much of the water was used to heat the radiators around the home but some was used to heat bath water.
I was told not to drink the water, which being slightly green in tint, I was inclined to listen. Still having really warm water in a bathtub was a luxery for me. I'm afraid I wallowed in the tub till my skin got all wrinkly before I scrubbed down with the soap. It was not the harsh Lye soap I was used to either. This soap actually felt nice and didn't burn my eyes too much.
When I was done I also washed my mop of hair. The last time I had the pleasure to do so was weeks back with some soap I found. I had to melt the soap together with some others I had found but it did the job. I also regularly used a mixture of Olive oil with some flax oil in my hair. It kept it fairly nice if I didn't get it to dirty. It had major tangles and knots though.
Polly led me to her room at the house and commented on my hair. She used some of her perfumed oils and lotion on my hair while brushing it out. She also used some scissors on it it from time to time to get rid of the knots she told me. I thought it a little strange that my hair didn't go much below my mouth in the front at the time but since Polly was doing it I was in a kinda lusty daze. Truth be told she could have shaved me bald and I wouldn't have noticed a thing.
She told me to sit still as she put some hollowed out wooden tubes into my hair with this neat little cross pin that fitted through it. When she was done my hair was all ontop of my head and not dragging anywheres. I had had hair long for so long the back of my neck felt strange not having it's normal covering.
Polly then started to dig through her dresser and tossed a few items at me. As I started to unfurl them I saw they were ladies undergarments and asked what they were for. Polly said my clothes were so filty that it was going to take her some time to get them wearable so I might as well wear something to cover my nakedness. I debated over this before she mentioned that the home matron and the rest of the girls may come before she was done. I knew this would mean an instant caning at the minimum and hurriedly tried to dress in the unfamiliar garments.
Years of street living with hardly anything to eat that wasn't old or raw had left me with a short boy with skinny arms and legs. Her female undergarments fit surprisingly very well. I was barely into the pantaloons and the short sleeveless white top when she put this restricting garment around my waist. The item she called a corset, had a stiff material in it that was maybe bone or metal restricting my movement. I didn't think it was that bad to wear till she started to pull the strings I had not seen before hand. I told her to stop as it hurt. She told me to buck up, whatever that meant, and take it as she endured this everyday.
Not to be outdone by a simple girl I put my best face on and waited for her to finish. When she was done she reached down the front somehow and pulled up what little flesh I had. I was surprised at how much she was able to shift as it left me with a small but feminine looking chest with the cleavage mark I had spied the older tramps showing off.
Polly then started to move me to the window where the sunlight was shining the best so that my hair would dry faster. The added heat from the radiator also helped to dry my hair. Polly left me for a time and returned saying my clothes had been really dirty and was on the third rinsing to get the worst of the dirty out. I blushed at this and just accepted this to be the case.
Polly then started to pull hairs from my eyebrows. It hurt it really did but as I tried to take in breath to yell I got lightheaded instead. I woke sometime later on the floor with Polly bent over me asking if I was alright. I found out I had fainted, she explained this was a common occurance when a girl was put into her first corset. She explained how to take a breath using only my upper chest and not my trapped lower one. It took me a bit but I found I was able to breath if a bit shallow.
I was able to get back to the chair before Polly used a few small tubs and tubes with brushes on my face. I was curious to what she was doing and she explained how by doing all this I would pass for a girl and avoid the caning. I understood she meant to protect me. I guess she had feelings for me and I probably had this silly smile all over my face because of it. When she was done with the stuff and a powder she had me stand up. I found my feet had some new shoes with a very small heel on them. I had not noticed before as my regular shoes never fit this good. Hand me downs that actually matched with some rags stuffed in them didn't make for the most comfortable fit. These fit so well even with the small heel I had not noticed them.
She had me practice walking in front of her while my hair finished drying. I was led to believe that the reason she had me walking differently was because of the shoes and the corset. I didn't know this at the time but it was a far more feminine style of walking that I was used to. Keeping my elbows held close to my waist and using only the forearms to balance did not work to well and I had to shift my weight using my hips instead.
When she pronouced my walking acceptable on a return trip across the room she presented me with a pale yellow skirt, white high collar blouse and a matching jacket for the skirt with its skinny arms and big puffed tops. I objected of course but she pointed out that young ladies did not go about in their undergarments. Left with little choice I donned the garments finding the skirt to hit the floor far to easily till she produced another undergarment called a petticoat. This helped to take some of the length off the skirt by making it wider from the hips down. I could at least move about if a bit noisy.
The blouse Polly had to button up the back before I could put on the jacket. It felt odd really odd. But as Polly pointed out a young lady would love to look half as good as I did. I laughed at this as best I could. One of the things I noticed about having the corset on was that my talking was different. Because of the way I was left to breath I had little choice but to use a softer tone. Polly undid the tubs she called rollers and started to brush out my hair here and there bit by bit. I was not allowed to view myself as Polly's room did not have a mirror in it.
When she was done she used some pins to secure a small hat in a matching color to the skirt and jacket to the top of my head. I attempted to brush back the tendrils of hanging hair she had left on either side of my face but she told me not to. She played a bit with my hands cleaning and shaping my fingernails from the ratty chewed length I had, I only chewed them off if they had broke, and I was soon sporting a different set of hands. They were mine but they weren't.
For one they were clean but she had done something to my nails making them look different. The total effect made my hands look dainty and very feminine in the jacket with the blouse sleeves just peeking out the ends. I didn't get much time to look at them as she carefully pulled lace gloves onto my hands making them look even more fragile if anything. She also put a small bag with a drawstring band of sorts on my arm.
It was a ladies purse, small, but one none the less before she all but pushed me out of the room. I took a moment to stop in the bathroom I so recently exited as it had a mirror. I had to know what I looked like. Expecting to see a homely boy, myself, in a ladies dress I was completely shocked to see a proper looking young lady. Her cheekbones, or I should say my cheekbones, were high and on display while her carefully coiffed hair was under a small but fashionable young ladies hat.
The hat in question was little more than a pieces of cloth with a small rim that barely covered anything. There was a tiny flower of some type made of cloth sewn into the rim. The girl's face, I couldn't think of any other word for it, was quite pretty. Next to Polly you could almost say they were sisters. Not quite twins but really close. I reached to the mirror with my hand and the figure reached back.
"Polly!" I tried to yell but the tightness of the corset, plus my rapid breathing, didn't make it sound much like my normal yell.
I walked quickly back to her room as running was completely out of the question. I opened the door and she was not there. I knew the only way to get out of this junk was to have her help me but she wasn't there. I started to look in the rest of the house for her but I could not seem to find her. The doors leading outside were also locked. I found this very strange and started to look for a lower window that may be open enough for me to somehow find her.
As stupid as it sounded I was actively looking around in the parlor room for a window that would open when the front door opened. I almost screamed at being so caught out. Pretending to be a female was a sure way to a severe canning and I'm afraid I started to cry right then in fear of the sure to follow canning.
"Well hello dear! My Abigail I must say you look much better than your picture." Abigail? Picture? Oh wait she thinks I'm...
"Madam I can assure you there has been some mistake. My name is not Abigail and I.." got cut off.
"Abigail Pendergraft is your name now dear. Surely they informed you of such before my arrival." the Lady spoke. She as definitely a lady if I ever saw one all dressed fancy with the toff airs and everything."Either way you are dressed in the traveling clothes I had sent for you so we must be off as our train awaits."
With that she grabbed my hand and pulled me forward towards the door. I pulled back as best I could but these new shoes and my unfamiliarity with the corset threw my balance off. I tried to squirm out of her hand but she had a really good grip on me.
"Please there has been a mistake. I'm not the girl you wanted. I'm not even a .." That stopped her abruptly before I could finish my sentence. I almost ran into her trying to get my balance.
"Look here Abigail. I will only say this once. You. Are. Now. Abigail. Pendergraft. My. Daughter. And. A. Young. Lady. In. Training." I could actually feel those pauses between words as she spoke. It was scary too." Your past is no more. What you were or think you were ends now. From this moment on you ARE Abigail Pendergraft and you WILL listen and behave accordingly. AM. I. CLEAR!" How she did that I have no idea but the impression that something far worse than death awaited me if I contradicted her in anyway was also made clear. I sniffled back tears I had not shed since my mother died and nodded my head twice. When I had done that her face changed from one of anger to a mother's caring face in an instant before she enveloped me in a hug.
"I know your scared Abigail. Leaving the only place you have known and all but it's for the best you'll see. You will enjoy being a lady of fine taste and will feel at home in no time you will see." she whispered to my ear. As she pulled back her hands were still on my upper arms as she gazed at me in the full view of the sunlight.
"My you are a pretty one. The boys won't know what hit them. I see, however, that something is amiss. A girl your age with no earrings. Unheard of, but it does give credence to your purity. I know just the place to stop by on the way to the station. I spotted it on the way in..."
She spent most of the carriage ride to the shop describing, in detail, of some of the sights she had seen on the way in. Much of these were about such feminine matters such as the cut and style of a dress she saw some woman wearing or her hat. I did my best to follow along and nod at the appropriate times to let her know I was listening.
Mother, as she insisted I call her at all times, was rather insistent that my ears be pierced before we left central station on a train bound for New York. I did not enjoy having holes poked into my ears with a hot pin even if the alchemist made sure to numb them with ice before hand. It still hurt. Mother would slap my hands with a small ladies hand whip when ever I raised my arm to touch them. She was of the opinion that I would get them infected if I played with them and to leave them alone.
I did my best to follow along behind or beside mother as we rushed about the busy station. I had only been here a few times to either beg shillings or run small errands for tobacco for some of the toffs going about their business. They were always a cagy bunch these toffs. Giving a note instead of real money or even tokens to buy the goods. Always expecting change or you to be quicker than you possibly could be shorting you shillings or pence.
Now those same toffs that usually treated me like scum were moving out of my way as I went among them dressed as I was. I must have lost some red in my cheeks from all the blushing I did as each and every one of the men looked at me with great interest. I felt their eyes on me as one would look at a prized brood mare before it went to a glue factory. It was disgusting really.
Once or twice I would stop as I recognized someone but mother would pull me along right quick with a sharp word about staring at the cute gentlemen another time. I mean really if we were in such a hurry why stop to have my ears done? Needless to say I couldn't follow her reasoning behind it all.
We had to cross three platforms before we reached the platform for our train which was running late. The haze from lack of air due to the corset I had been suffering from took me a bit to recover. Mother told me that I needed more training in a corset as my panting for breath was unseemly. She declared that once we were on our way she would describe my forthcoming duties as a lady in training in detail. I was loath for this but did my best to compose myself.
It did give me a moment of time to try to figure out a way out of this mess that Polly had gotten me into. I wished I could drop my pants to prove to the lady I was not the girl she thought I was nor any girl but I knew that I was in no position to do so at this time. The skirt, corset, crinoline petticoat, not to mention the pantaloons would prevent my doing so easily.
Having little choice but to continue to pretend to be the girl mother insisted I was I did my best to remember any little bits I had observed toff women doing. Which in hindsight wasn't anything since I had only recently started to look at women in general. I watched the women around me with my eyes by not turning my head for clues on how I should act. Such as putting both my hands together in front of me with them lower down over my crotch. It was not the most comfortable position.
Thinking back I couldn't remember what I normally did with my hands when not trying to open things, carry things, or simply run pumping my arms with all my might. This brought a smile to my face as I though of how old Constable Hamston would not even recognize me at the moment. As if my very thoughts prompted this a Constable happened to walk right in front of both mother and myself. I was screwed and knew it.
"Ladies!" and he just nodded the tip of his conical hat at us before passing by. I just about fainted. While it wasn't a Constable that I recognized it still was the very same men I used to run from a few hours before. It would seem that just a change of clothing made a huge difference in how these men treated a person. Made me wonder how they would treat me in a nice tailored suit, proper shoes, a ascot tie maybe and a smashing top hat.
Mother asked me what I was thinking and I told her. She got visibly upset and grabbed the top of my ear and twisted it.
"Young Ladies do NOT go about in men's clothing. You get such thoughts out of your head this instant young lady!"
"What was that?"
"Yes Mother!" I replied again. My first ever ear twisting was very painful. I had been canned before, what young boy hadn't? But ear twisting? Surprisingly it worked better than the cane ever did. The rest of the wait on the platform was spent with mother giving me a mouthful of how degrading it was for a woman to go dressed about as a man or in men's clothing such as pants.
I was thankful when the train arrived. I had never been on one myself but mother had. She told me how she did not like trains as they were so noisy. She instead preferred the soothing cruise ships she said. I had never been on one of those either. I asked her for a description and was perhaps a bit hasty in my questions as she admonished me for my behavior in this regard.
Being a 'proper young lady' was tiresome and frustrating to say the least. All during the long train ride mother insisted on improving my bearing. Stop trying to slouch. Shoulders back dear be proud of your breasts. A proper lady sits with her knees together though how she even saw that underneath the skirt is beyond me. Don't fidget, don't chew your lips. Don't grind your teeth. Just about everything I did was wrong to her. It was so nerve wracking that by the time the train passed out of Toronto proper I was ready to scream.
Instead I fell asleep sitting up. A new one for me since I didn't think it possible for a person to sleep in such a confining garment. Mother had me lean on her and put a cloak over me. I apologized for my action however she shushed me saying she understood that meeting her for the first time would have made her nervous. She asked if I had gotten much sleep the night before. I said I hadn't but left out that the reason was not because of her but because of the stupid dog that was rather upset that I hid in his doghouse for the night. I didn't think she would have understood at all.
I was therefore surprised that we were to get off the train so soon. I had figured we would take the train all the way to New York. Instead we had taken the train to a small town that had heavy construction going on. The place was called Port Wellar by the locals although I didn't actually see a sign that claimed such. The reason for the stop was apparent as the rail line over the area to the far side was under construction as well as what appeared to be a very large ditch with cemented sides.
Mother explained we would board a small ship to take us across the lake to the far side. Since I couldn't actually see the far side of what I presumed to really be a sea of some sort surely I could tell what that place would be. She said it would save time and allow her to visit some of Mr. Pendergraft's holdings before we headed to Boston. We took a small two seater carriage that was surprisingly smooth. Most carriages I had been in were very bumpy.
When we exited I had to look to see why this was and found that the carriage itself was supported by two curved pieces of metal. I wanted to ask the driver of the carriage what they were very badly but a look from mother and I put my head down and my hands once again in front of me.
"Head up Abigail." She said. Sighing I did as she requested. I was so used to being the lowest of the low that this sudden change to being anything but was going to take me some getting used to that was for sure.
As we walked down the walkway to where the ship was docked I saw the biggest boat I have yet seen. Her idea that this massive thing was small shocked me to my core. It made me wonder what she called a large ship. The ship was visible and stretched a good hundred feet maybe more. There was a single stack coming out of the middle of the ship. While I had grown up around Toronto the port area was less than a good place for a young lad to be at the best of times. I did wonder why we took a train here instead of boarding in Toronto though.
It was not until we boarded that I understood. The ship was too large for the docks in Toronto. Apparently my new father was part owner of the shipping company which was why we got settled into a large cabin by ourselves. The cabin had a main room and two rooms through metal doorways for sleeping chambers. Mother showed me the one I would be staying in. She told me the cruise, such as it was, was overnight and we would be expected to dine with the captain.
She helped me to strip to my undergarments before instructing me to used the basin to wash myself. I did the best I could with the funny material thing in the basin. It was a soft item with many holes in it. She called it a sponge. It held a fair amount of water and it did make cleaning oneself easier but since rags were much easier to get I thought of it as a thing that would not catch on in the future.
Once my upper body, what was washable was as clean as I could get it, mother returned dressed in only her undergarment, much the same as what I was wearing abit made of a much finer and expensive cloth and a robe. She had me sit down while she brushed out my hair. I didn't really see the point but she seemed to enjoy it as she hummed. After the knots were removed I found I enjoyed this attention.
Once she was done brushing she used pins to put my hair up once again but this time in a different style. I felt relieved when she loosened the corset laces and was about to take a breath when she pulled on the laces again. Not being used to a corset at all I found it quite painful. She instructed me to put my arms above my head and to breathe out completely. I did this and she pulled the laces even tighter. My former waist was not even smaller than before. This shape left by the corset gave me the illusion of womanly curves a girl my age would not quite have yet.
I found the experience better than when Polly had done it. The simple act of putting your arms over your head seemed to make it easier somehow. Although I had not noticed it I was already getting quite used to breathing in the garment. Mother then instructed me on the fine arts of a young ladies makeup. I did make a few mistakes since I had never done this before but overall I did a satisfactory job I think.
Mother told me that now that I was a young lady of means I would have all the makeup I wished to experiment with. It did not don on me at first but she assumed my inexperience with makeup was because of the poor conditions of the orphanage and not because of my male past. I did not dissuade her of this. I could have but the memory of the painful ear twisting was not something I was eager to repeat.
Mother produced a dress for me to wear from a closet that had a few others in it. How she had gotten these between Toronto and here was a mystery but she had. The dress was a peach color with small embroidery in black and gold. The top half of the dress had a revealing neckline that did not show any cleavage. It did have a small white edging that was a ruffle of a sorts. The same white material was on the bottom half of the sleeves that really only came to my elbows.
The skirt had a part in the middle revealing a similar design to the sleeves. This was the overskirt while the underskirt was the same material in off white with two petticoats underneath. Mother buttoned up the back of the dress for me before putting a strand of pearls around my slim neck. She asked me to twirl, which I did but got me a touch dizzy, and she pronounced me lovely. She had this smile on her face that my own mum used to have when I was younger. I could have sat under that smile forever. I had missed a smile like that so much it hurt when she gave her head a little shake. She told me to practice my reading while she got herself ready.
Not having read much for books since mum had passed away I did my best to read through a book she had left for me. It was a book that was more about how a young lady should act in polite society than anything else. Some of the words were unfamiliar to me and I had to pass over these. I did not notice the time pass away as before I knew it mother was calling my name. Not used to being Abigail I didn't respond. Thus she found me nose in book.
"Abigail! I have called for you why did you not answer me young lady?" her tone left me with the impression that anything I was going to say would have been wrong so I just held up the book as a defense. She shook her head at me but with a slight smile at the same time before she grabbed my hand hoisting me from my spot on the stool.
Mother had needed my help to button up her dress for her. Not used to doing such a thing my hands while normally quite deft at such actions shook as I had to try a few times on some of the buttons. I did wonder how she had gotten the laces on her own corset so tight but deigned to ask. Her dress, or gown, I suppose was of similar style to my own but had a deeper neckline showing a hit of cleavage, scandalously so. The rich deep brown cloth with the same white edging and sleeves also had the same underskirt as my own. She looked quite pretty if I say so myself.
It was as she was examining herself in the mirror on the wall that I saw how much alike the two of us looked. My face and hers was very close. She had my nose and cheekbones. I wondered if she was a long lost relative of my mothers. I don't remember my mum ever saying she had a sister but then again I don't remember her ever saying she didn't have one either. I was a little shocked at the revelation. I seemed to be having a lot of those today.
We had a bit of time before the ships steward was to come for us. Mother spent the time teaching me how to talk with her accent. Or as she put it, talking proper without the gutter accent. I found this funny as she was the one with the accent not me. Still I found it amusing trying to talk like a toff. I laughed a few times in that airless short laugh while doing so. Then again so did mother on some of them.
I'm sure the steward who came to get us thought we were both silly twits as we laughed at our own jokes on the walk to the main restaurant on the ship. Mother had explained that a ship this small only had one. Again the reference to size of the biggest vessel I had ever seen made me wonder what she called a big ship.
The captain's table was set with a lace table cloth and fine china with a strange watermark on it etched in gold. There was also far to many utensils on either side of the plates which caused me some panic. I was introduced to the captain and the other guests who were two businessmen. One was from Ottawa, and his wife, the other was returning from a venture to Winnipeg to his home in New England.
At once I noticed that much like was treated on the streets, I was also muchly ignored here. At a guess toff children were given as much attention as street kids like myself. I was still very nervous even as the steward directed me to a chair the he pushed in as I was sitting down. I noticed after that he did the same for mother while the other men did the same for the two woman on the far side of the table.
The second woman was a younger toff of about 16 or 18. Hard to tell with women. Men are a bit easier to tell their age. She sat quietly during the meal much like I was doing. I used her to copy for behavior for the most part. I did have to use mother for the one dish as she didn't get it. I did get asked questions from time to time but mother answered these with a yes or no from me. I did my best to remember to speak with mother's accent though.
After the meal itself was done mother, and the rest of the toffs dismissed me to go stroll off my diner as it was. The young toff lady joined me for the stroll. Where we got the shawls from is a mystery for me as one moment we both had none and then poof there was the ships steward with two shawls for us. I thanked him as did my companion.
"Abigail if I am not being to forward. Is this your first time on a ship?" she asked.
"Yes it is. I must say I am quite excited. The ship is lovely even I do not know it's name."
"I'm sure father will be happy to hear you find his ship so."
"Oh is Captain Murdock your father then?" dolt! The first girl you get to talk too aside from Polly and you sound like a bloody idiot!
"Yes he is. This ship was to be his greatest achievement. Our family had put our fortune into building her. However your father and his associates bought her before she even set her keel to water. Even though she has not an official name as of yet I hear they wanted to call her the SS Carona. I doubt she will bear that name now. Perhaps another ship in the future will bear that name." The girl whose name I still did not know rested against a rail in the evening dimming sun at this announcement. She seemed quite sad that this ship would not receive her name for some reason.
"I'm sorry Miss Murdock but I never did catch your name."
"Mary and it's not Murdock but McKinley."
"I'm sorry...wait Mary you said.. But I thought.. Oh dear."
"It's okay Abigail. I was born out of wedlock to my parents. They have petitioned to have my last name changed to match theirs but the barristers are being rather stubborn about it." She laughed at this. It made me sad to know that due to toff legaleaze she did not bear the name of her parents.
We chatted about small things, not really trying to know each other till the night cool breeze sent us inside the ship again. In my former life I would have begged to have a word with a girl such as Mary but she would have had nothing to do with one street rat. However now things were reversed as I was the one who should have nothing to do with a middle class it would seem. The rules imparted by mother in the carriage and stateroom did not leave me much choice in this regard.
Mother and I did not stay up much later as we made port in the morning. She bade me to sleep in the corset only loosening it a bit for me to sleep in. She said this was to help me get used to wearing one. Using the chamber pot, which was one of the new porcelain things, was a bit of a trouble as the corset came down over my crotch. I was left with little choice but to sit and pee. I used the washrag on myself as I made something of a mess doing this.
I did manage to get some sleep in the corset and the rollers mother had also put into my hair for the night. Not as much as I wanted as I was awake before the first rays of the sun turned the dark night to grey. Mother had me wash over the basin while she watched to make sure I did this correctly. When I was washed as best I could she bade me to change into a new chemise and pantaloon. She had left me to change by myself so I did not get a chance to reveal my true nature.
I know I could have but a part of me felt wrong to do this. I waited dressed in my undergarments for mother to come put on a new corset. Again I raised my arms while she pulled on the laces and tied me in. I puzzled over why I did not want to end my time with mother as I was sure she would if she found out I was not Polly but some street boy.
I contemplated this while mother got me dressed up in a blouse and skirt with jacket again. I was still puzzling this while putting on the mascara and powder so much so I didn't even notice how well I did the increasingly familiar ritual. It was time later after I had checked my appearance in the mirror that I realized I was coming to like being a girl.
Although it had really been a short time since yesterday's introduction to a girl's world I still found myself starting to do things like a girl does without thinking. This bothered me as boys should not do this and yet here I was. Captain Murdock and his daughter Mary saw us off the ship with, what I could now see, was a civil farewell.
I looked back on that unnamed ship with a fondness. I knew at that moment that that ship would always be in my memories as the unnamed ship that I first sailed on. The coach ride into Watertown where we boarded a train to Albany. During the train ride mother spent some time teaching me letters and numbers. I had had some learning before with mum and the pastor but I was never very learned in it. I could get by. Mother sought to change this on the ride in the dinning car. Even when we switched to another coach she had me work on numbers with a lead pencil so as to not dirty my dress.
Our first stop was at a small woodwrights shop just outside of Albany where mother inspected some pieces being made for the summer house. Not knowning what she meant by this I walked around the dusty dirt floor shop looking at all the various pieces being made. The woodwright had three apprentices shaping wood. It was a wonder to see wood change from rough timber into a recognizable chair leg right before my eyes.
The device used was some rope held between a board on the floor and some bent branches anchored into a pole. The rope was wrapped around a piece of wood between two pins of some sort. The apprentice would push down on the board with his foot turning the wood while his hands held a metal tool of some sort that carved the wood a bit at a time. It was really quite fascinating and I could have stood there forever watching it had mother not called to me. I did wave goodbye like Mary had at the docks with just my fingers.
Our next stop was at a seamstress where mother had me stand on a pedistal in just my undergarments for hours. I was measured a fair amount on the chest waist arms and from my hips to the floor. I was scared that the seamstress would discover my secret but if she did she never mentioned it. Mother had me inspect fabrics. Some of them I thought quite nice but she pointed out how the thread pattern showed it to be inferior quality compared to another one that looked almost the same.
We spent a fair amount of times choosing fabrics while mother and the seamstress discussed cuts, drapes, and necklines. I did not have the knowledge of such that mother did so I stayed back doing my best to not be bored. I was grateful to put on my skirt and blouses when they had finished and get out of there. Mother paid out some gold coins getting change back in silver, copper, and shillings. The finished dresses were to be delivered to the summer house in Vermont.
We stopped off at a hotel for the night. The supper was quite good and filling even if I didn't eat all that much. Mother stated that the fare was adequate but she could not wait to be served real food at the summer house. Mother was quite upset when we were shown to the room to find our trunks not unpacked. A maid was summoned to unpack the trunks. It was from these trunks that I learned our wardrobe was packed and had followed us. I was intrigued at the process and had a hard time concentrating on my numbers while sneaking glaces at the maid with the iron on the small stove as she ironed the dresses.
The stove was very small with a small coal chamber and a pipe that was directed out the window. The iron had a place on top of this to heat up while the maid was busy with the mountain of material. I found out the trunks did not lie flat normal and actually stood upright instead. I wondered why the trunks were not marked for such but refrained from commenting as mother was in a right mood over the whole process. She was very good at this as in no time all the dresses, skirts, blouses, and even the undergarments were all ironed and put away into the small wardrobe.
The small desk in the room is where I sat as mother patiently instructed me on who to write better. Her small suggestions seemed to help my writing go from illegible to something readable. It was nothing like mother's but I was trying to copy hers as best I could. Mother spent time with me doing letters, numbers and other lessons I was less thrilled about. I still think she is the one with the accent but I try. Her hug rewards when I get something right feel so nice it's hard to not try my best at all times.
The next day was more of the same except I got some new dresses to go try on at the seamstress. I was also now the proud owner, well mother was, of a number of fine silk pantaloons, camisoles, and even fancy looking corset. Mother explained this corset was specifically for my ball gown. I spent more time on my numbers that day with mother patiently teaching me. She is very good at this and I told her so. It seems that as a small girl she wanted to be a school teacher or governess however marriage to her husband, who she told me to call father, had changed that for her.
Father is mostly self made but he comes from a family that had money at one point. His father, now deceased, had squandered his inheritance before my father had reached a majority. My, well she is now I guess, grandmother had been left with very little at the time of his death. Father used his education to gain money and holdings. He had been so busy at this for the last 10 years that he had not really had time for children. When he did mother tried to give him an heir.
I could tell by her change of tone and mood that this was a sore point for her. Which didn't help me much since mother decided I needed deportment lessons. By the end of the day I could balance the stupid book for almost ten minutes at my best but I was exhausted. I feel asleep quite easily that night still tied into my corset.
Mother had me doing deportment, letters and numbers and speaking for the whole train ride to Bennington where we stopped at the summer house. The summer house was a grand old house that had three floors. My bedroom had it's own sitting room and bath. The bath was wonderful after our travels from Toronto. I had gotten used to being clean by a basin but a good long soak in a warm bath was delicious. I think mother had the same idea as she did not bother me for most of the day.
We stayed at the summer house for 4 days entertaining a number of couples with informal garden parties. Mother admitted she wanted to show off me to the gentry and was quite proud of how I handled myself as a young lady not yet debuted. I asked her later about that and she told me that next summer I would be a debutante and introduced into society proper. This scared me as it meant that I would be introduced as a girl when I wasn't.
I put on a smile for the guests the next day but mother noticed I was not enjoying myself as much as she had hoped. When she asked I let her think it was because I was worried about the debutante ball when I wasn't her daughter. She assured me I was as that is how she had come to feel I was. I did not get much sleep that night. I could not think of a way to tell mother how I was a boy without hurting her.
One thing about that night was I realized I had come to think of her as a real mother. So much so that I honestly loved her to my very core. To hurt her, as was surely to come when the truth came out, hurt me very much. I had to be her daughter as I had come to realize I very much wanted to be for her.
Every time she introduced me as her daughter Abigail she was smiling so much. It was a true and deeply genuine smile. When we left for Boston after packing away the dresses the seamstress had made for me it was with sadness I boarded the coach. I felt that I would never seen that lovely summer home ever again. I had some fond memories to tide me over for sure but I knew that the best thing for me to do was to leave my mother before she found out about me.
My plan was simple I would acquire some boys clothing in Boston, get changed and then hide out in the cities streets much like I did in Toronto. While simple in planning execution turned out to be anything but. I did manage to get some boy's breaches and shoes. However getting a shirt was difficult.
The day we were to board ship I was in my room at the hotel with the clothing in front of me when mother walked in. I had already removed my blouse and skirt but had not yet figured out how to remove a corset by myself. I was caught and I knew it. I figured she would cane me or worse, twist my ear. She did neither. She gasped at me seeing what I was trying to do. She ran from the room to her own room next door.
I felt bad I really did. I touched the pants and had fully intended to put them on but I heard mother's sobs next door and knew I couldn't. I just couldn't go through with it. The pain of her sobs hurt me far more than I thought it would. I was therefore back in my skirt and blouse when I knocked on her door.
"Mother may I speak with you?"
"Why? So you can tell me you don't love me? So you can justify your running away to make yourself feel better? Well don't bother! Just go Abigail! I knew it was too good to be true. I ...just go." she never even opened the door.
"Mother I do love you. I don't know why but I do that is why I have to go."I had tears of my own going down my face at this point. I jumped back from the door as it opened suddenly. Mother's face was smeared with black streaks, her hair was a little wild as a few of her pins had fallen out.
"Why Abigail? Can't you tell I love you as if you were my own flesh and blood? Have I done anything to wrong you? Please tell me I can make it better just don't leave me. I ...love you too much to loose you again." that took me by surprise.
I closed the door to mothers suite behind us and listened intently as she told me of the original Abigail. It seemed that mother had had a really hard time bearing children for father. The one child that had survived was her daughter Abigail. When Abigail was five years of age she was sent to a boarding school despite mother's protests against it by father. It was at the school that she had contracted consumption. My mother had traveled to be with her daughter who did not do well and died at the tender age of seven.
Mother had convinced father that she would search orphanages for a new daughter. From all over the country she had had pictures sent to her in hopes of finding one girl that looked just like her daughter. The one picture she had found was of me, well Polly really, that looked so much like her that nobody would know. That was why she had paid so much to adopt me even though she was from the states.
Legally I was their daughter Abigail and no one was to know that I was anything but. The plan was to raise me as if I had returned from a long but successful bout with consumption. Nobody was to know any differently and she assured me nobody would care once I was debuted. She told me my fear was something she would help me get over and that she loved me so much. She begged me to not leave her.
I broke down in tears anew as I told her of my little secret. She didn't believe me and urged me to lay on her bed so she could check. When she was satisfied I told her of what had happened. I also told her I wanted to be her daughter so much but I knew that my secret would not last long as soon I would start to develop as a man. I told her I was going to leave so she would not be hurt.
We ended up sobbing quite well into the night before we got changed into sleep wear. She urged me to sleep with her but she did release me from my corset. After having one on for so long I was surprised to see that my waist had shrunk but I retained the illusion of womanly curves including small breasts. Mother and I curled up as mother and daughter in that hotel bed that night. We never did make that ship.
The next day I continued to practice my letters and numbers as well as speaking like a proper young lady even though mother and I knew differently. I so wanted to be her daughter that I was not ready to give it up. Mother spent much of the day out on errands.
When mother returned that evening she was full of praise for me at how much I had accomplished in her absence. I even showed her I could walk with out the book falling once. It was like last night had never happened. I loved her more and more in the following days as I became Abigail for her. She is my mother and I her daughter.
It was the early morning three days after that night that mother woke me early urging me to get dressed in a hurry. I was mystified as to why and feared she had found someone to take me in as a boy. A boy I no longer felt I was. I did well to be dressed in under an hour. Mother and I boarded a carriage where we followed some back streets to a section of Boston that is best described as seedy.
In a chinaman's shop we were urged into a back room were I was made to strip completely. I begged mother to not leave me. I told her I would be a good girl and how I did not want to be a boy anymore. She soothed my fears away with hugs and told me she had found a way to make me her daughter truly. She told me that the chinaman was a doctor of sorts from the old country. He would remove the things that make a boy grow as a boy so I would not have to worry about that. But, and she warned me of this, this was not something to enter lightly.
I agreed of course as it meant I could be a girl for my mother. The chinaman used some pins into the back of my neck and I soon felt nothing as he went to work. It did not take all that long before he removed the pins. When I sat up my lower body was wrapped in linens. I was given a large bag to hold that mother said was some tea that I would have to drink. The old man used his daughter to talk to my mother about what to do in the coming days.
There was pain, but with the knowledge I was no longer going to grow into a man I endured the pain. I did get a fever on the second day after where mother was frantic with worry. The chinaman's daughter came by with some soup she had made and more herbal tea for me to drink which helped. I was still sick and weak for a few days but nothing major. Mother had wired father to tell him I had come down with a fever and we would be in Boston for some time till I recovered fully and not before.
I did get to see the return telegram that said simply "As you wish dear. Tell her I am anxious to meet her. I smiled at the love from so few words to me as his unmet daughter. I had never had a father before and, truthfully, was quite excited myself to meet him. I knew I was not yet ready to do so but still I was excited.
When the scars were but crusty pink lines and my fever had fully passed mother once again brought me to that district. This time to another shop of, strangely, a leather worker. The man was, well he was a tinkerer among many other things that are best left unsaid. Still it was his belief that his device would, eventually, mold my deformity into a close approximation of a woman's opening below.
The leather device consisted of a small block of wood that would press against my now empty ball sac pushing it up into my body. I was instructed to make sure to put my wee wee into the small notch on the wooden that had a small opening to allow me to pee. After a week the device would be changed to a larger one until I could put the largest into the opening. It was instructed that the device be boiled once a day to prevent infections from setting in.
Wearing the device was decidedly unpleasant but mother had shown me what a girls vagina was supposed to look like and assured me the device would make me look much like her. I was anxious to be rid of the device each night and again anxious to wear it each morning. I drank my tea as well faithfully.
We did set sail on the steamer SS Adriatic. I did not originally believe mother when she had said the unnamed steamer was a small ship but upon seeing the Adriatic I believed her. The ship had docked off Boston before finishing her leg to New York to take on some coal and supplies. The ship had two restaurants on her and really was quite magnificent to sail on. While I had gotten used to wearing and moving in the device it still made things difficult on the voyage as some of the smaller bathrooms I could not use.
Father greeted us both as the ship docked to a real dock in New York harbour. To all appearances he was greeting his daughter, me , after not seeing her since I was a little girl of 6. There was reporters asking if I had enjoyed my trip and if I was happy to be home in New York again. I assured them I was but stayed in close ranks with mother and father as I was scared of these people.
Our New York Home was the top floor of a building on West 3rd street. For its time I suppose it was one of the taller, but certainly not the tallest, building in the area. As I grew into blossoming womanhood thanks to my tea I got to shop with mother quite a bit for new clothing and corsets. The newer styles that showed a bit of ankle were something mother and I had a fight about. She believed firmly a woman's skirt should touch the ground and that was that.
I did, after many months, finally put in the bigger of the devices wooden tubes. It seemed huge the first time I saw it but mother assured me that some men were just as big. I fainted which caused mother to laugh after she got me up with smelling salts. I understood that as a woman I was expected to one day satisfy my man by letting him impale me. I accepted this as inevitable at first. It was not till much later when my breasts were as large as mothers that I would actively start to wonder when I could experience this.
It was a year later that mother took me to see her doctor who performed an exam on me. I was nervous the whole time and quite uncomfortable as he probed into my new vagina. When he was done he did his best to deliver bad news, or so he thought, to mother and I that I could never have children as my vagina was malformed. I put on a good show with plenty of tears and such even a small fit for the public. At home mother and I celebrated our small victory as a doctor had, abit unknowingly, proved my womanhood.
My debutant ball was everything mother had promised it would be even if the gown I had chosen was a little on the scandalous side with the material barely covering my ample breasts. Mother was displeased less with that and more with the fact that the gown did not touch the floor. It was only really an inch at the most from the floor and I thought mother was over reacting.
All during my time between Boston and my debutant ball I studied hard with books, a few tutors, and much supplies. I was proficient in writing and mathematics. I had even bought a typewriter and was practicing with how to use one. Mother was again less than pleased as she believed the things to be messy at best. I told mother I was a modern woman and should be as good with the machine as a common woman. The argument won her over if reluctantly.
With my debut to society suitors started to call for my hand. Mother found the experience flattering at first but quickly got annoyed with the boys. Father purchased a newer gun called a shot gun which he kept on display whenever the suitors came to call. I found this amusing as many of the suitors would be captivated and nervous when father took out the gun to polish it on their second visit. I do not know if he ever had bullets for it or not. As far as I know my father never shot a gun in his life.
I celebrated my 17th birthday just after new years day 1890. Mother and father decided that they would take a year to show me Europe. We set sail in may of 1890 from New York on the SS Britannic. The voyage was enjoyable after I got over my bought of sea sickness. For 6 days and nights I was much sought after by the few young gentlemen aboard ship.
One such gentleman was a young Issac Fulton of New York. His claim to fame, as it were, was that his maternal grandfather was a duke of something in England, while his father was the son of an American cotton baron from down south. Truthfully I did not really care too much but he was a great kisser, when we could get out from under my ever vigilant parents. If not for my fear of sex I probably would have lost my virginity to him.
England and its many wonders were everything mother and father had claimed them to be. France had some wonderful dress shops that had even shorter hemlines than home. Mother was displeased. While I did not get to dine with any royalty during our times in Europe I did get to try my hand at a ladies game with two sticks in the ground and these large wooden mallets we would hit these colored balls with. I found it quite fun myself.
Father was introduced to a mens only game with the silly title Gentlemen only, Ladies forbidden. Or Golf as they put it. I did not get to watch him but father was quite enthusiastic about the game and had made arrangements to bring the sport to America. Mother I and I both believed this to be a waste of funds. Father was stubborn about it though and admonished us with some colored words. Being just women it was none of our business what men did or did not do.
Our return trip was on a much less grand ship called the SS Pennsylvania. But then I was of the opinion that nothing could be better than the Britannic at the time. This voyage had far more women my age than boys so I did not receive as much attention. I spent much time doing the old ladies standby of needlepoint in groups of other equally bored young ladies watched over by aging grandmothers. I was sad to note that mother and father were quite happy with me during that voyage.
It was during our return to home that I ran into, literally, my future husband or boyfriend. His name was one James Newton II. He has nice flaming red hair and such cute sideburns in an even lighter color. We had arrived during the start of that dreadful time of year called winter. James was at the dock to meet his sister and grandmother. I had slipped on a piece of ice or something on the gangway that led from the ship to the pier.
He caught me before I had even gone down more than a few inches. My hat stayed on my head as I was loath to loose it. It was James eyes that I looked up into. Those deep brown eyes captured my heart. I do not think I even breathed he was so handsome. If not for father helping me back up I would have stayed in his arms forever.
Abigail Pendergraft was not an unheard of name and it therefore did not take James long before he came seeking. As usual father polished his shot gun during James second visit. Mother was behind the scenes investigating his bloodlines and what not. I spent much of my time between his visits in a cloud. Mother imparted much advise to me during this time on the attentions of young men.
It is now February 14th 1891. James had left me a box of chocolates and a large vase of red roses this morning. He had also informed me that tonight he is taking me out to a restaurant or as he put it a Grande restaurant. Mother and myself have spent most of the day going through my large collection of dresses and gowns to find just the right dress for this evening.
It was purely by chance that I happened upon this old peach dress that Polly had so long ago tricked me into. I do not know what had become of her and do wish her well. Myself I'm quite happy to be the young woman I am today. I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I had not gone to check on Polly at that Baker home.
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