Emily: Or, the voluptuous delights of a once-innocent young lady


'You will marry soon', was often said to me at twenty, and so often that I began to think of marriage as a far-off country, or rather an island whereon the inhabitants would be vaguely strange to me-having other manners, other attitudes-and where mirrors (in rooms that I had not visited but knew I must encounter) would reflect different images of me to those with which I was the more familiar. Sometimes I thought of marriage as a chair, a high chair, high with a straight back, and having ornaments of pearls and plumes, and having crested arms, in which I would forever sit.

Such curious fancies often took me then, and still possess me of many other things, of customs, attitudes, and fancies eaten as one eats a small, sweet cake. When I was young, was very young, in my eleventh year and still in bud, an old lady stopped me close by Shotter's Wood into which a meadow rises and disappears as if it had loped forward in a long, green wave and then had changed its mind, not wishing to disturb the saplings as they were then, long ago. 'Are there dreams to be had here, dear, my little dear?' she asked of me.

'Yes', I said-said 'Yes' in my simplicity, for I knew there were dreams in the myriad leaves, wound in among the stunted hedges, surging in the loam that flows like a dark sea among the aspens and the elder trees. My aunt came hastening to me then, bidding a neighbour adieu, her footsteps purposeful along the lane. I felt her frown fall like a small cloud on my back. 'What is it that you want?', she asked the old lady who mumbled something, turned, and went the way that she had come. I felt a sadness for her-black dress fading into horrid grey, perhaps a penny only in her purse. 'There are dreams to be had here, Aunty, are there not?', I asked. 'What nonsense! Is that what she told you, pray? Downcast are those who live in dreams, for few are ever realised. Examine your mind for practicalities. Absorb your five-times table, Emily.' I did not, nor have done so since. Tradesmen count money; I do not. I count the pearls of precious moments, yes, small drops of sunlight that I keep among dried shells, old coins and broken necklaces. I count the kisses, quick, impassioned, I have known. Such are not practicalities, but needs. Mama was not as my Aunt Mathilda was. When I spoke to her of dreams, she answered me in kind. Her lorgnettes would rise and she would peer at me with twinkling eyes. 'Absorb your dreams as earth absorbs the rain, and let them nourish you', Mama would say. My sister, Eveline, would use me as an echo- chamber at such times and afterwards would absorb the words from me. I was senior to her by three years and much her monitor in our beginnings. We have been fortunate that our thoughts breathe together, as the thoughts of sisters sometimes do. Our brother, James, was more independent in his ways at first, sought butterflies where we sought petticoats and thought himself a wild explorer with a telescope through which he would peer at other houses far away, across the valley where the sunlight drew long shadows on the grass. 'What do you see?' I asked him once, for I had tried it and the aperture seemed far too small for my quick eyes. 'He looks at the milkmaids', Eveline said. They were known to piddle in the grass sometimes, and James had seen them do and said rude words of it, that he had seen their bottoms all a-gleam, that some wore stockings, some did not, but none had drawers they needed to pull down. We were heard to speak of drawers and such by Mama, but she did not mind. At this time I was near eighteen, and more in blossom than I knew myself to be in such male eyes as cast themselves upon my form. Guests came and went like shadows then. They came from other worlds, I thought. The women all were pretty-some much younger than the men. I recall one, Adelaide, who was scarce much older than myself and sat with Papa and he touched her thighs. Her waist was wasplike, but no more than was my own. Her tutor, guardian-I know not who he was-sat next to me that evening. It was not our custom that the ladies should disperse from table that the gentlemen might smoke. Mama said this was a nonsense since the ladies then smoked, too, their gentle, perfumed cigarettes. James, Eveline, and my elder sister, Jane, had gone to bed. I was the favoured one that night. Mama had a slight flush upon her cheeks at my continued presence, yet she let me stay. We having passed the stage of port and wine, I took to a liqueur, and found it creamy, heady-a delight. Across the table from me sat a girl of my own age. Her companion had a look I thought of then as saturnine. He held his arm about her waist and made her lean to him and kissed her neck. She stared up at the ceiling, blushed. I expected her to squeal, but she did not. Papa coughed-Mama made a clucking sound. I felt a hand upon my knee, and fingers groped my garters through my dress. 'We shall retire', Papa said, 'Let us to the drawing room'. I made to rise. The hand up on my thigh prevented me. Adelaide's guardian conveyed to me a winsome look. Chairs sounded in their scrapings and the others rose. In rising, others float when one is still. I felt transfixed. The hand soothed, found my stocking top, the nascent, glowing flesh above. 'Mama!', I wished to speak, but she had gone, the others in her train. The dining room enlarged itself, then shrank.

'Have you not been tutored?', I was asked. I strained my neck and stared at scattered plates, the debris of the feast, the wine stains on the otherwise clean cloth. 'Sir?' I spoke but did not look at him. His beard would graze my face, I thought. I moved my legs a trifle, felt his hand like a warm toad slide-slither down to feel my knees, then fall from me. 'Later, perhaps', said he, and rose.

His hand extended to me. I was led into the drawing room. Mama gave a look, quick look, then motioned me to sit beside her which I gladly did. A couple sat upon the floor and kissed. Papa and Adelaide perched on a sofa a full foot apart like birds uncertain as to whether to roost or fly. Her corsage was undone. Her white chemise emitted spills of lace. Another couple were together in a chair, the female full upon his lap, a glass uncertain in her hand. There are times for dreams', Mama said, looked at me, then laughed self-consciously and looked away. Pamela, companion of the saturnine and older man, rose at a prod from him and came to me. 'We have nice things to show you in our room- my room', she said, correcting herself so quickly that the others laughed. 'I may to bed', I answered. 'No', Mama said, 'You may go and see, my pet- and then you may to bed. 'Tis early yet; you are allowed to stay up longer now'. 'I, too', the man said whose companion nestled the more deeply in his lap and whispered something in his ear. The laughter there on bubbled all around, and Papa shifted close to Adelaide who gave me such a perky look and showed half of her titties, swollen, pale. I did not look, I did not wish to look. I thought them all inebriated at the least, yet knew upon the very birth of that quick thought that it was false. There was a waiting for me to depart. I felt it like the chiming of church bells that come to one with vagueness on the wind and then retreat and fade and are not heard again. The hall seemed hollow as we entered it.

For the first time I had not kissed Mama, Papa, goodnight. I had my waist enfolded by the man. The girl preceded us. Her bottom swayed.

Taller than I, she had long legs and showed a flash of patterned stockings, bootees black. Upon the landing, as we turned along the corridor, Eveline's door chinked open and she peeped, her nightgown swirling close around her thighs. Our eyes met, then she closed the door again. I knew exactly how she would lean against it, lean.

'A pretty girl', the man said, and he touched my bottom as he spoke. I felt myself urged forward to a further room, passing my own.

The girl opened the door. As though I were in another house, I thought- as though I did not know the rooms that waited for their guests the long weekends. The bedclothes were drawn down; the sheet showed white, a waiting plateau, though I knew it not. 'We have time', the man said. There was awkwardness. I felt the awkwardness, but knew not what to say, but finally said 'Yes', I knew not why. The girl smiled, grateful for the word, and took my hand and led me to the bed. I felt as panicky as must a bird whose feathers are first clawed at by a cat. 'What is it you have?', I asked. I thought of ivory, of lace, of long and painted feathers, fans, some furbelows-I knew not what-and even so I knew they were not there. 'I shall to the water closet', said the man. The girl's grip tightened as he spoke.

The door opened again and then was closed. I stood alone with her.

I turned, found myself turned, our faces close together.

'Kiss me', the girl said. There was urgency in that small voice.

I had not kissed with lips to lips before and thought it strange a girl should want to do. I let her lips touch mine. How soft they were!-'No, more, you silly'. Her hands took my neck. Her mouth slurred the more closely into mine. Hands, arms, were twisted and I fell, fell falling on my back and she upon me with a little laugh, hands tight upon my shoulders so I could not move. 'Don't', I said feebly, but my mouth was smothered underneath her own.

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