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The sun was warm when I awoke. The curtains had been drawn back - the lamps removed. Evidently I had slept heavily. Jenny roused me, smiling from the doorway where she stood. The gong below sounded for breakfast.
'You are late,' she said. She wore a long black skirt, the waist drawn in tight. Her blouse was white, the buttons of pearl. Beneath the silk of her blouse, her breasts loomed pinkly. A perking of nipples. They indented the material. Like a child late for school I was hustled into the bathroom and out again.
'I have no dress to wear,' I said. Jenny smacked my hand.
'You are late,' she repeated. The smell of sizzling bacon came to us. I was hungry. My mouth watered. The wardrobe doors were opened quickly. A thin wool dress of light brown colour, rust colour, was handed to me. 'Nothing beneath except your stockings,' Jenny said. She palmed my bottom and my breasts as I raised my nightdress. The sensation was pleasant. The dress cascaded over my shoulders and was worked tightly down over my curves. It was as if I were naked. I was preferred in boots today, Jenny said - black lace-up ones that came to my knees. The heels were high. I feared to fall down the stairs. I told her.
'Nonsense,' Jenny said. 'Brush your hair quickly. Show me your teeth. Are they clean now?'
I was taken down. Approaching the dining-room we walked more slowly. My legs felt longer in the boots, the high heels. My aunt and uncle and Caroline were already seated. Silver tureens stood on the massive sideboard. Caroline looked up at me quickly and then attended to her bacon. We ate in silence as if some doom were pending. Neither my aunt nor uncle spoke, even to one another. It was a penance perhaps. I ate voraciously but delicately. The bloom of health was upon me. The kidneys and mushrooms were delicious. The maids who served were young and pretty. I liked them. They avoided my eyes. They had learned their learning.
With every movement of Jenny's body her breasts moved their nipples beneath her blouse. She wore garters that ridged themselves slightly through her skirt. Beneath the tablecloth my uncle's hand stole on to her thigh. He caressed them. His palm soothed from one leg to the other. Jenny parted her legs beneath her skirt and smiled. I wanted to suck the tip of her tongue.
At a nod from my uncle we were dismissed. Caroline and I rose together and wandered into the drawing-room. We were lost in our fondness. We held hands. Our fingers whispered together. In a moment, from a side entrance, my uncle appeared in the garden. A carriage had arrived, it seemed, but the visitors came not to the front of the house. They skirted the side and appeared where my uncle stood.
The woman whom he greeted was in her early thirties. I had a vagueness of seeing her before. Her flowered hat was large, of pale straw with a wide brim. She wore white kid gloves to her elbows. Were they my gloves? I had left mine in the sea at night. The fishes had nibbled at them. She was beautiful, elegant. Her dress was of white and blue, the collar frilled. Pearls glinted around the neck. Beside her came a servant neatly dressed in black with velour lapels to his jacket. He had an air of insolent subservience.
'She is beautiful,' I said to Caroline, 'do you know who she is?'
Jenny's voice sounded behind us. 'What are you doing?' she asked in a sharp tone. A tone that scratched.
'I was asking,' I answered.
Caroline moved. Her palm was moist in mine. 'I know her. She is Katherine Hayton - an actress. We have seen her at the Adelphi,' she said. Her eyes were saucers as she received Jenny's stare.
'You were not told to hold hands,' Jenny said. She jerked her head at me and said, 'Come. Beatrice, come.'
Forlorn, I relinquished Caroline's hand. Our own house was yet an ocean away. In the bedrooms women with bronzed skins and supple hips were lying. They would wear my clothes and steal my jewellery. Jenny led me down the hall. To my astonishment we entered the linen room. It smelled of starch and nothing. 'You must learn - you must both learn, Beatrice. Do you not know?' Jenny asked me.
I blinked. I did not know who I was. Father had lied perhaps. He had not gone to Madras. He was with the women in the rooms. They would French-drink. Their lips would taste of curry. There would be musk between their thighs. I said yes to Jenny. My voice said yes. My hands were at my sides.
'Kneel before me, Beatrice.'
I did. My head was bowed, my hands clasped together. I prayed for goodness. Edward's stepmother used to undress with her door half open. We could see her as we went past. Her bottom was big. I told Edward that she should close the door. He smiled. His eyes were small and neat. Like his pine when it was not stiff.
'Kiss my thighs,' Jenny said. She raised her skirt, gathering up the folds. I was blind. A mildness, a perfume. Her drawers were split both back and front. It was the fashion then. Women could attend to their natural functions without removing them. In my mother's early days women had never worn drawers. The curls of her slit, her loveslot, honeypot, were framed by the white linen. My palms sought the backs of her thighs. Her knees bent slightly. I could feel her smile. My tongue licked out, sweeping around the taut tight tops of her black stockings. Her skin - white like my white. She tasted of musk and perfume and the scents of flowers. My lips splurged against her thighs.
'Ah, you lick, like a little doggy you lick,' Jenny laughed. After a moment or two she pushed me away with her knees. 'It is too soon,' she said. I wanted to cry but she would not let me. I was brought to my feet even as the door opened and Jenny rearranged her dress. My aunt led Caroline in and frowned a little at Jenny, as I thought. The window of the linen room was set high up at the other end from us. The light was morning soft. Caroline wore, as I did, a woollen dress of fine skein.
'You will see to them, Jenny,' my aunt said. From our distance I heard my uncle and Katherine enter the house. There was a tinkling of glasses, laughter. The door closed, leaving the three of us alone.
'Remove your dresses,' Jenny said. My hands went to the buttons of mine, but Caroline hesitated. Jenny smacked her and she squealed. 'Quickly!' Jenny snapped.
We stood naked except for our stockings and boots.
Jenny drew us together, face to face, thighs to thighs. From a drawer she took cords and bound us tightly together - ankles, thighs, waists. We could not move. Our cheeks pressed close. Placing her hands beneath Caroline's bottom she urged us slowly into a corner. I stood with my back to the meeting of the walls. Caroline's breath flowed over my breath.
'Your bodies merge well together,' Jenny said. 'Are your breasts touching fully? Move your breasts. Your nipples must touch.'
'Yes,' I said, 'yes, Jenny.' Our nipples were like bell-pushes together.
Mine grew and tingled. Caroline's grew. Her toes curled over mine.
'Please, don't,' Caroline whispered. I knew that she wasn't speaking to me but in her mind speaking. I moved my lips against her ear. Jenny had gone.
'You like it,' I said. I wanted to make her happy. I coaxed her. She had had the cane. Was it nice? 'Do you like it?' I asked. I made my voice sound as if we were going on a holiday. If she liked it we would be happy.
'I don't know,' Caroline said. Her voice was smudged. Our bellies were silky together. I could feel her slit warm, pulsing. It was nice standing still. I moved my mouth very slowly from her ear to her cheek. I felt her quiver. Had she sucked his cock? I would not ask yet. I would ask later. The tip of my tongue traced the fullness of her lower lip, the Cupid curve. Caroline moved her face away. Her cheeks burned. Our nipples were thorns, entangled. 'Do not!' she choked.
'Jenny will come,' I said. Caroline moved her mouth back to mine.
The bulbous fullness of her breasts against mine excited me. Our mouths were soft in their seeking. I sought her tongue with my tongue. It retreated, curling in its cave curling. Sipping at her lips I brought it to emerge. The thrill made us quiver. Our nipples moved, implored. My belly pressed in tighter to hers.
The door swung open of a sudden. It was Jenny. She scolded us and said we had been kissing. Working her hand between us she felt our lovemouths, secretive between our thighs. They were moist. Her hand retracted. Her fingers sought our bottoms. 'You must practise - you love one another. Caroline - put your tongue in her mouth.'
We swayed. Caroline's tongue was small, urgent, pointed in its flickering. Hidden by our lips our tongues licked. It was a secret. I wanted.
'Open your mouths - let me see your tongues,' Jenny commanded. We obeyed.
'Half an hour,' Jenny said. She moved to the door and we were alone again. Birds sprinkled their songs among the leaves outside. I was happy. The richness of our bodies flesh to flesh was sweet. Caroline's eyelashes fluttered and tickled against mine. I could feel her belly rippling. Our tongues like warm snakes worked together. Our thighs trembled. The ridged tops of our stockings rubbed.
Perhaps the door would remain closed forever. Our minds whispered together like people in caves.