Un Belle Dame
She was born Bernice Wallingford in the Republic of New Haven in 1884. The Wallingfords were one of the founding families of that small nation, and as the child of wealth and privilege Bernice was expected to go far.
How far was something her parents never expected.
Bernice was tutored until she was a teenager, then attended a private finishing school. She then attended the Collegiate School of New Haven (Note: in our reality, Yale University; New Haven is actually a slice of Connecticut that didn't join the USA, declaring its independence from Britain in 1781), graduating with a baccalaureate degree in Art in 1904. She then went on the Grand Tour.
Her father paid all of the bills, and allowed her to set her own itinerary. Her roamings (later described in her book A Singular Life) took her through Europe, Africa and Asia before returning to New Haven in 1910 via the United States and Canada. On the way, rumors arose that she was a bit 'wild.' How wild can be judged by the fact she bedded a cousin of the King of Italy and the Crown Prince of Japan, among others.
She married Reginald Pratt, another scion of a founding family, in 1910, and the two were celebrating the birth of their second son Thomas (their first, Reginald II, was born in 1912) when the Great War broke out. Reginald signed up for the New Haven Flying Corps and was killed in action over Amiens in 1918, leaving Bernice a widow and very wealthy.
Deciding that she needed something to do, she changed her name to Bernyce to make it appear more exotic, and set aside part of her house as The Academy.
Most people would consider The Academy a brothel, but the women there were expected to be beautiful, well-educated and absolutely clear of social diseases. The place was furnished in impeccable taste, and the prices commanded reflected the high tone of the establishment. However, some customers could be admitted gratis; Bernyce insisted that she "made Allowances" for those she considered true artists.
In 1929, the Governor of New Haven was assassinated by a terrorist bomb; the act was claimed by the Red Fist, a Communist faction then agitating in the country. Bernyce, sensing that things were about to change for the worse, began to quietly move her extensive library and art collection to her chalet in Switzerland. She was out of the country when the Red Fist Revolt occurred in 1931 and toppled the democratic parliamentary regime.
Her sons were educated at Eton and Oxford, so she settled briefly in Switzerland before moving permanently to Liechtenstein. During her Grand Tour, she had served briefly as governess to the children of the brother of the ruling prince, and the dynasty was pleased to offer her a home. She settled down in Triesen, a town south of the principality's capital Vaduz.
Nineteen thirty-six saw her ennobled as Freifrau (Baroness) von Triesen; the patent caused her much amusement. She continued to be considered wild, even into her sixties, by taking a variety of lovers of both sexes. Freud termed her a seeker after sensations, an opinion she agreed with even though she privately loathed him for prying into others' psyches.
Hardly touched by the Second World War (her sons and their families moved to Switzerland, while she visited frequently; her opinions of the German Nazi regime were largely unprintable), she visited America and commented sadly, "I see that the marketplace has seized a nation, much like the measles seizes a susceptible person" and returned to her estate. She stayed there the rest of her life until her death in 1980.
Bernyce is copyright to me, and will be seen in the story "The Otterholt House Massacre" on the Spontoon Island furry anthology website. Drop on by sometime!
Artwork by the talented Stuart McCarthy.