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Before many minutes he rejoined us, and leading the way, we followed him into one of the most lovely bijou salons it had ever been my lot to enter. There were seats for eight at the table, four of which were occupied, and the chef not waiting for his lord and master, had already sent up the soup, which was being handed round by a plump rose- cheeked boy about sixteen years old, who I afterwards found acted in the double capacity of page to Monsignor and chorister at St Martha of the Angels, to say nothing of a tertiary occupation which, not to put too fine a point upon it, might go excessively near to buggery without being very wide of the mark.
I was briefly introduced, and De Vaux, who knew them all, had shaken himself into his seat before I found time properly to note the appearance of my neighbours.
Immediately on my left sat a complete counterpart of Monsignor himself, save that he was a much older man; his name, as casually mentioned to me, was Father Boniface, and although sparer in his proportions than Father Peter, his proclivities as a trencherman belied his meagreness. He never missed a single course, and when anything particular tickled his gustatory sense, he had two or even more helpings.
Next to him sat a little short apoplectic man, a doctor of medicine, who was more of an epicure.
A sylph-like girl of sixteen occupied the next seat. Her fair hair, rather flaxen than golden-hued, hung in profusion down her back, while black lashes gave her violet eyes that shade which Greuze, the finest eye painter the world has ever seen, wept to think he could never exactly reproduce. I was charmed with her ladylike manner, her nearness of dress, virgin white, and above all, with the modest and unpretending way she replied to the questions put to her.
If ever there was a maid at sixteen under the blue vault of heaven, she sits there, was my involuntary thought, to which I nearly gave verbal expression, but was fortunately saved from such a frightful lapse by the page who, placing some appetising salmon and lobster sauce before me, dispelled for the nonce my half-visionary condition.
Monsignor P. sat near this young divinity, and ever and anon between the courses passed his soft white hands through her wavy hair.
I must admit I didn't half like it, and began to feel a jealous pang, but the knowledge that it was only the caressing hand of a Father of the Romish Church quieted me.
I was rapidly getting maudlin, and as I ate my salmon the smell of the lobster sauce suggested other thoughts till I found the tablecloth gradually rising, and I was obliged to drop my napkin on the floor to give myself the opportunity of adjusting my prick so that it would not be observed by the company.
I have omitted to mention the charmer who was placed between De Vaux and Father Peter. She was a lady of far maturer years than the sylph, and might be, as near as one could judge in the pale incandescent light which the pure filtered gas shed round with voluptuous radiance, about twenty-seven. She was a strange contrast to Lucy, for so my sylph was called. Tall, and with a singularly clear complexion for a brunette, her bust was beautifully rounded with that fullness of contour which, just avoiding the gross, charms without disgusting. Madeline, in short, was in every inch a woman to chain a lover to her side.
I had patrolled the Continent in search of goods; I had overhauled every shape and make of cunt between Constantinople and Calcutta; but as I caught the liquid expression of Madeline's large sensuous eyes, I confessed myself a fool.
Here in Kensington, right under a London clubman's nose was the beau ideal I had vainly travelled ten thousand miles to find. She was sprightliness itself in conversation, and I could not sufficiently thank De Vaux for having introduced me into such an Eden.
Lamb cutlets and cucumbers once more broke in upon my dream, and I was not at all sorry, for I found the violence of my thought had burst one of the buttons of my fly, a mishap I knew from past experience would be followed by the collapse of the others unless I turned my erratic brain wanderings into another channel; so I kept my eyes fixed on my plate, absolutely afraid to gaze upon these two constellations again.
'As I observed just now,' said the somewhat fussy little doctor, 'cucumber or cowcumber, it matters not much which, if philologists differ in the pronunciation surely we may.
'The pronunciation,' said Father Peter, with a naïve look at Madeline, 'is very immaterial, provided one does not eat too much of them. They are a dangerous plant, sir, they heat the blood, and we poor church-men, who have to chastise the lusts of the flesh, should avoid them in toto; yet I would fain have some more.' And suiting the action to the word, he helped himself to a large quantity.
I should mention that I was sitting nearly opposite Lucy, and seeing her titter at the paradoxical method the worthy Father had of assisting himself to cucumber against his own argument, I thought it a favourable opportunity to show her that I sympathised with her mirth, so, stretching out my foot, I gently pressed her toe, and to my unspeakable joy she did not take her foot away, but rather, indeed, pushed it further in my direction.
I then, on the pretence of adjusting my chair, brought it a little nearer the table, and was in ecstasies when I perceived that Lucy not only guessed what my manoeuvres meant, but actually in a very sly- puss-like way brought her chair nearer too.
Then balancing my arse on the edge of my seat as far as I could without being noticed, with my prick only covered with the table napkin, for it had with one wild bound burst all the remaining buttons on my breeches, I reached forward my foot, from which I had slid off my boot with the other toe, and in less than a minute I had worked it up so that I could just feel the heat of her fanny.
I will say this for her, she tried all she could to help me, but her cursed drawers were an insuperable obstacle, and I was foiled. I knew if I proceeded another inch I should inevitably come a cropper, and this knowledge, coupled with the fact that Lucy was turning wild with excitement, now red, now white, warned me to desist for the time being.
I now foresaw a rich conquest - something worth waiting for - and my blood coursed through my veins at the thought of the sweet little bower nestling within those throbbing thighs, for I could tell from the way her whole frame trembled how thoroughly mad she was at the trammels which society imposed. Not only that, the moisture on my stocking told me that it was something more than the dampness of perspiration, and I felt half sorry to think that I had 'jewgaged' her. At the same time, to parody the words of the poet laureate -
'Tis better to have frigged with one's toe,
Than never to have frigged at all.
Some braised ham and roast fowls now came on, and I was astonished to find a poor priest of the Church of Rome launching out in this fashion. The sauterne with the salmon had been simply excellent, and the Mumms, clear and sparkling, which accompanied the latter courses had fairly electrified me.
By the way, as this little dinner party may serve as a lesson to some of those whose experience is limited, I will mention one strange circumstance which may account for much of what is to come.
Monsignor, when the champagne had been poured out for the first time, before anyone had tasted it, went to a little liqueur stand, and taking from it a bottle of a most peculiar shape, added to each glass a few drops of the cordial.
'That is Pinero Balsam,' he said to me, 'you and one of the ladies have not dined at my table before, and, therefore, you may possibly never have tasted it, as it is but little known in England. It is compounded by one Italian firm only, whose ancestors, the Sagas of Venice, were the holders of the original recipe. Its properties are wondrous and manifold, but amongst others it rejuvenates senility, and those among us who have travelled up and down in the world a good deal and found the motion rather tiring as the years go on, have cause to bless its recuperative qualities.'
The cunning cleric by the inflection of his voice had sufficiently indicated his meaning and although the cordial was, so far as interfering with the champagne went, apparently tasteless, its effect upon the company soon began to be noticeable.
A course of ducklings, removed by Nesselrode pudding and Noyeau jelly, ended the repast, and after one of the shortest graces in Latin I had ever heard in my life, the ladies curtsied themselves out of the apartment, and soon the strains of a piano indicated that they had reached the drawing-room, while we rose from the table to give the domestics an opportunity for clearing away.
My trousers were my chief thought at this moment, but I skilfully concealed the evidence of my passion with a careless pocket handkerchief, and my boot I accounted for by a casual reference to a corn of long standing.