(pages 11 – 20 )
“I’ve lost my whole family this week,” Margaret mumbled through her sobs. “And where was I? I was off having a gay time.”
Her cries seemed to last forever. She was nearing hysteria and Mr. Bell urged her to drink her brandy.
“Mr. Bell, how do I live through this guilt?”
“Margaret, there is no guilt anywhere. As a clergyman’s daughter, you must know that God works in mysterious ways. There was no fault by the Navy that your brother contracted the disease that took his life. They did everything they could for him. His body arrived in Helstone three days ago. The disease and the long voyage inspired me to have him interred without haste. Your father was getting up in age and news as he had received could take any strong man in his fifties. The church is doing everything to make his final resting service as beautiful as possible. That will be tomorrow.”
Mary entered the room and inquired about dinner since the hour was upon them. Mr. Bell looked at Margaret, then turned to Mary and shook his head. “Maybe a sandwich later, Mary.”
“Margaret do you want to lay down?”
“No, not just now. I cannot shut down my mind. I cannot grasp that they are both gone . . . my whole family, now gone. I am alone in this world.”
“Margaret, I will tell you that you are not alone, but there is still one last piece of bad news to give you.” Mr. Bell could see the brandy was beginning to take hold as Margaret’s trembling hands were beginning to settle. He only had this last devastating life-changing news. He felt as if he were pounding her into the ground and one final blow would set the post.
“What do you mean, I am not alone and the other news?” Margaret whispered as she continued to stare into the hearth with all her thoughts adrift.
“As you know, you mother left to your father, the means for you to make your way in life. She had left a dowry, living funds, and her jewels to you. I don’t ever remember her wearing jewels being married to a clergyman. They must be family heirlooms coming from a wealthy family such as she did. Your father, rightfully, left all that came to you to be dispersed to you by your brother, the only son, when you reached twenty-one, should something having prevented him from doing it. Frederick died without a will and the courts will rule that what your father had when he died would be left to his sister, your aunt, Penelope, who is of legal age. It will be at her discretion to dole out your inheritance since no disbursement directions were written. She will be here tomorrow for the funeral and it’s anyone’s guess what she’ll do with what should have rightfully come to you. I remember your father mentioned her once or twice and he didn’t seem to have a high regard for her.”
“Yes, I remember the same. So, what I am to come to understand is that, I have lost my father and my brother and most likely all my worldly possession and am penniless?”
Before Bell could answer, he quickly grabbed her as she slid to the floor. He picked her up and carried her to the room that was ready for her. “Mary,” he called out.
Mary appeared at the door. “Yes, sir?”
“Would you see to her satchel and dress her for the night. I think she will sleep until morning.”
“Yes, sir. As quick as can be,” and Mary set to work.
As the weeks rolled on Margaret struggled to come to grips with the loss of her family. Her aunt sold the family home and insisted that she come and live with them in Winsford. She had no choice but to accept their charity. It was never a thought in her aunt’s mind to bequeath some of the money or jewels to help Margaret make her way in life, even as a working woman. Margaret was penniless. During the following year Margaret found herself slowly cast into the role of a servant of the house, being expected to earn her room and board. Margaret was tasked daily with menial jobs and although she would have wanted to help in the house, it was now an obligation. She tried to explain that she was educated and could probably help them in other ways, but that wasn’t to their liking.
Margaret had secretly looked for work in the small town but there was nothing for her. Her life had become grim and she hadn’t faced the worst. Fright was now a daily worry. It seemed that her aunt’s husband, George, was becoming bold in her presence when they found themselves alone. Margaret did all that she could to avoid him when her aunt was out of the house. He would call for Margaret, asking her for a cup of tea or just her opinion on something he’d written. But he always managed to find a reason to be near and brush against her, apologizing afterwards. As the weeks wore on, the apologies stopped. His attentions grew bolder with him actually placing his hands on her, as if he was a doting Uncle. Margaret knew it was otherwise. She had to get out of the house before he could overpower her and take what he wanted. Easily, he could hold over her head the fact that she could be escorted to the front door with her luggage, at any time. Margaret felt hopeless and didn’t think she had anywhere to turn.
One night while reading a book, something reminded her of the woman who had been her governess for eight years. From the age of six, Miss Leeds taught her to read and write, draw and sew, and much about life that wasn’t found in books for young girls to read. She had loved Miss Leeds and Margaret felt she cared for her very much, too. Somewhere in her personal effects were a couple of letters that they had exchanged over the years. Miss Leeds was always interested in her charge as she went through higher education and finishing school. Margaret hoped that one of those addresses would find her.
* * *
John Thornton sat feeling very foolish and wondered at his sanity for waiting in the madam’s office of a high class brothel. He was embarrassed even though his actions were respectfully extolled by most of his male friends who boasted about the lady’s at Miss Leeds.
By anyone’s definition they were whores, but John found out a lot about the establishment before visiting the place. Miss Leeds took her job very seriously. Each one of the women who worked for her was hand-picked. If you met one of these women on the street, she would have been taken as a Lady. They were respectable, professional, and lovely to look at. They were proficiently skilled in the care of cleanliness of their person and their room and avoiding conception and the adhering to the rules of the house. There was maid service to change the bedding with crisp ironed sheets after a customer had completed his one hour. Miss Leeds treated all the girls as her daughters and had their interests at heart more than her clientele. Her girls would work no more than three hours a day and they had their mornings to themselves. They were paid well above the average worker and a small sum was put aside for when they decided to leave the business.
Miss Leeds was an intelligent woman. She knew they didn’t have much of a life after this type of work. They would forever be shunned and most likely unmarried for the rest of their life. She ensured that they could provide for their advancing ages on a small scale. Miss Leeds’ establishment was quite respectable. Her services were expensive, but her attention to her girls didn’t end there with her mothering. She interviewed every new client, being very critical of the male customer. You were somebody if you passed Miss Leeds’ interview. The following morning, she would have a conversation with the new client’s lady. They would discuss the client’s wants and desires as Miss Leeds had rules there, too. There were certain desires that would not be tolerated and if the gentlemen insisted himself on the lady, he would be banned. Also, Miss Leeds would inspect her girl who had been with the new client the night before, for any sign of bruising or roughness. The Leeds’ Ladies, having been in the new metropolis of Milton about two years had risen to the top bringing with it an air of decency. Memberships were held in high regard and much sought after by the more lucrative gentlemen in Milton, whether married or single. Miss Leeds taught the girls how to teach their client, if he was inclined, in the art of pleasing a woman. She knew that women had lived in the dark ages long enough. The embarrassment of not speaking up for what pleasured them was over. Even though it meant some of her customers would find satisfaction with a pleasured wife and never return, she was glad of it. A lesson was always offered during the interview process and the client knew the invitation always stood.
John Thornton was an unceasingly pursued gentlemen being on the top bachelor list in Milton. He was a tall, young, dark haired, blue-eyed man with a lot wealth behind him. He was the premiere Cotton Manufacturer, now owning three mills. His life had been dedicated to his work and reaping the rewards had never been part of his routine, until lately. He was never without a lady on his arm at the theater, dinners, or city events. He was no stranger to intimacy with a woman but he was tiring of the women that he attracted. When he needed to fulfill his sexual needs, he wasn’t interviewing for a wife. All the women seemed to have designs on snaring him for a husband. They assumed he could be captured through exhaustive marathons of sexual antics, or as he had heard rumored, through a conception entrapment, which he was most careful to avoid. He tired of that game even though his male friends envied him.
“Good evening, Mr. Thornton,” Miss Leeds said, as she strolled into her tastefully decorated office, while John stood for her entrance. There were no expenses spared anywhere in her establishment, John thought, as he looked around the room. There was no bawdy look to be found anywhere. He felt like he was in a lovely first class hotel.
“I’m very sorry to keep you waiting, but knowing of you, Mr. Thornton, your interview will be brief. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts if you wish to be a member here. Even though I don’t know you personally, I do not think you are the sort to have any difficulty following our house rules.
John started to glance down at the paper he was handed when Miss Leeds began with her few questions, asking mostly about his preference in the Lady. Even though John was uncomfortable with this whole interview, he persevered. “I am well aware of your reputation and how well you take care of your ladies and your gentlemen clients. I have no particular woman in mind. I will be happy with a pleasant quiet gentle woman. Probably, unlike your other clients, I will be visiting here on occasions to unwind. I do not want a woman that has anything to prove to me or any special performance. It is that that I am wishing to avoid.”
“I see, Mr. Thornton. Knowing your reputation, I was quite surprised to see you being escorted into my office. You would be the last person I would expect to need our services here, but I think I begin to see what some of your difficulties are with the ladies that beg your favors. You will certainly be a welcomed client to any of our women. I have two girls that are very gentle and well spoken and are among the favored here. Do you wish for an appointment this evening?”
“No, I would like two nights from tonight or a night when either of these lady’s you recommend are available,” John said as he folded the Rules paper and stuffed it in his inside pocket.
Miss Leeds looked through her appointment book while John peered at the long list of reservations, he presumed. “Mr. Thornton, Miss Lucie will see you at nine o’clock on Thursday evening. Will that suit you, sir?”
“Yes, that will be fine,” John, said, as he stood to leave. He reached across the desk and shook the extended hand that Miss Leeds offered.
“Mr. Thornton, you will be a welcome client and I hope we pass your expectations, of which, I really have no doubt.”
“Thank you, Miss Leeds. I shall return in two days.” John turned and left the confidential office. As he arrived on the sidewalk outside, he inhaled heavily, glad to be passed that ordeal. He whistled for his coach as he could see Branson well down the line of parked carriages with drivers waiting out their master’s hour. Being president of the Merchant Chamber of Commerce and a city Magistrate, he’d been in plenty of difficult situations but his past half hour had to match some of his most unforgettable times. His difficulty wasn’t with the interview itself, the worry of rejection, or the embarrassment; it was himself. “What is wrong with me, that I need a place like this?” he asked himself.
Branson pulled his carriage near to where John was waiting, making that area in front of Miss Leeds Place, now double parked with coaches. He saw Branson nod to the driver waiting next to the curb. “They must know each other,” John thought. He wondered what his friends would think and he knew Branson must be wild with questions. His driver, Branson, had been with him several years and was as good and professional as they came. He may have to give Branson a reason why he might need to be driven here now and then before he would burst with wonder.
With a questioning look on Branson’s face, he opened the door for his Master. John, working on why he went there tonight, kept telling himself, he needed to relax and not always perform like he was on a stage. He didn’t think there was anything new to learn in his execution as a sexual partner, but that was the point. He was tired of complying to their demands. Sometimes, he became so concerned about what the Lady expected or wanted, that his own satisfaction went unfulfilled or it turned into a marathon of stunts. Where had his lustful youth gone? He wondered. He wanted someone to care about. He knew finding a woman he loved would make a big difference in his maturing attitude but the idea was beginning to seem hopeless. This had been his way of life for a decade. He could already hear the guff that his partner and best friend, Nicholas Higgins, was going to give him when he found out what he had done tonight. John did take some comfort that he knew a lot of the single Mill Masters were frequent guests at Miss Leeds’, albeit for probably different desires than he.
Branson reined his Master to his front door and hopped out of his box to open the coach door and lower the steps. As John exited the coach he looked at the frown Branson was wearing. “I guess you’re wondering why I went there, aren’t you?” John asked, smugly.
“Well guv, I must say ‘yes’, I am wondering. They only perform one service and it would seem to me they offer nothing of which you have to pay for, but it is none of my business, sir,” Branson said, leaving it hanging in the air, begging an answer.
“You are correct, Branson, it is none of your business.” John paused, smiling. “All I will say is that, occasionally, it will be nice and relaxing for me to do nothing that I am expected to do. Women, who want to trap you for a husband, can be incredibly adventurous or downright deceitful. This tires me. I may be getting paranoid, but I have reason to believe that entrapment is being bandied about. If I can give you any advice, always know where you place your seed. Guard it. Don’t leave the responsibility always to the lady.” John turned and walked toward his front porch not expecting any response from Branson. Branson probably considered himself a young lady’s man and thoughts of this nature may not have entered his mind, yet. John knew he would have to mull over what he was just told. At his young age, lust inevitably rears its uncontrollable passion and little thought is given at the moment of future consequences.
* * *
Miss Leeds watched as Miss Lucie awaited the arrival of John Thornton. She was properly dressed in ladies newer fashions, her hair was perfect, and her scent was freesia. Since Miss Leeds was standing in the hall when Mr. Thornton came through the door, which was opened by her butler-bouncer; she greeted him and showed him into the parlor.
“Good evening, sir. I hope your stay will be what you expect. Please do not hesitate to visit me in my office should you find something amiss or worrisome. Mr. Thornton, this is Miss Lucie,” Miss Leeds said, then departed the room.
John felt awkward. What did he do now? Do they sit and speak for a few minutes? Does he take her hand and kiss it, or shake it? He finally started to open his mouth to greet her, when she took his hat from him.
“Good evening, Mr. Thornton. Gentlemen usually leave their coat and hat here, on this coat rack. But if you prefer to bring it with you, that will be fine, too.”
“And good evening to you, Miss Lucie. It’s nice to meet you,” John said, extending his hand to lightly shake hers. Lucie was very beautiful, he thought, with her jet black hair and green eyes. She was quite short but nothing detracted from her lovely shape. His breathing became heavier as his loins told him of his anxiety.
“Mr. Thornton, I hope it will always be your pleasure when you meet me,” Lucie said, coquettishly, smiling into his eyes.
John had seen that look before. Many of the women he had escorted over the years wore that same sweet, almost innocent look, that, frankly, he had come to detest. That smile and tone were all part of her act, he knew. He didn’t know what to expect, but sincerity certainly shouldn’t have been expected. She was a ‘professional’, after all.
“Mr. Thornton? Would you care to follow me?” Lucie asked as she felt waves of her real passion starting to well up, looking at this most handsome man. This could be a rare night of enjoyment and no masquerade of her desire and creating a pretense that he was all man.
This book will contain some explicit sensual scenes later in the book. If that is offensive to you in a Romance novel, you may be well advised to not begin this book. – Loyal Wynyard
The Old Vic has announced that Digital Theatre are to film their critically acclaimed production of The Crucible, directed by Yaël Farber, starring Richard Armitage. The production will be broadcast to cinemas around the world and available as a download, with dates and territories to be announced later this year.
Set in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, where in 1692, 19 adults and two dogs were hanged for witchcraft, and one man was pressed to death for refusing to plead. The Crucible tells the story of one man’s fight to save his identity in a repressive Puritan community.
Arthur Miller‘s play was inspired by the actions of The House Committee on Un-American Activities of the McCarthy era, in front of which the playwright was invited to give evidence. It was most recently seen in London at the Open Air Theatre in 2010, with Patrick O’Kane as Proctor.
Armitage (Robin Hood, Spooks and The Hobbit) plays John Proctor and is joined by Anna Madeley (Earthquakes in London) as Elizabeth Proctor and newcomer Samantha Colley as Abigail Williams. The cast also includes Sarah Niles, Rebecca Saire and Zara White.
The Crucible is the third play in a new season of productions which are presented in-the-round at The Old Vic.
Douglas’ kiss was not what I expected. Instead of hungrily invading my mouth with his tongue, he begged entrance in a shy, humble way, almost wooing my lips first by gently licking them. I was surprised and stopped trusting my own tongue into his mouth. Immediately he sweetly began sucking my upper lip, which caused my heart to leap violently within my chest. His mouth made love to my lower lip in slow, stroking movements. A ball of desire began growing in my belly, racing up and down my body like a fire. Dear Lord …
“My dearest, are you sure you want to do this? We could wait and …,” Douglas whispered. I cut him off and pleaded. “No, Douglas, please? I have been wanting you for so long … I love you, Douglas …”
“Margaret, my heart … you know I love you too, almost from the first moment we met but … this is huge, my love. This is definite. I do not want to force you into something you might not be ready for.”
“Douglas …” I stroked his face with both hands and to my astonishment I felt my eyes sting with unshed tears. “Do not reject me, Douglas, I beg of you. We are to be husband and wife soon so what difference does it make?”
In answer to this, Douglas wrapped his arms around me and kissed me to the full now. This time the kiss was hard and demanding, his lips bruising mine with his surge of arousal. My nightgown was shoved upwards and Douglas’ hands were on my bare flesh. I whimpered as he caressed the length of my thighs with skilful strokes. I instantly responded by tugging at his shirt; his magnificent chest glistened and showed the smooth hardness of his silk and steel-like muscles.
Douglas gave me no chance of exploring his body further. His hands wandered over my shoulders and freed them from my nightgown. His feathery kisses rained down on my face and neck and trailed down to my bosom’s edge. His lips traced the curve of my left breast, caressing it with his tongue, before taking the peak into his mouth. I gasped and lifted my hips against his in a violent need that threatened to drown me! He nibbled and sucked until my nipple was hard as a pebble. His hand slid under my bottom and lifted it. His mouth left my breast to travel down to my stomach, and then up again to my other breast.
“Douglas, please …” My ragged voice sounded loud in my ears; I had no breath left. With a start I realised he was now lifting my bottom with both hands! His mouth was – oh Heavens! – on my most secret place. I felt his mouth kissing, nibbling, nudging where no one had ever touched me.
It felt immensely good … I gave myself over to the sensations he was instigating in my body – deliciously intense sensations. I experienced an impression of being forced upwards into a ray of liquid sunshine and I was immensely eager to follow that heat wherever it would take me. The world was spinning and I was spinning along with it. I stopped breathing when I was suddenly cast into the heart of the sun; a myriad of stars exploded inside me in a huge ball of unmitigated and unending pleasure!
In the morning, I awoke in my own bedchamber with no recollection of how I ended up there. I was again wearing my nightgown and the bedcovers were tucked snugly around my body. I was alone and bitterly disappointed about it. Somehow, I had hoped to find Douglas beside me when I woke. What a lovely thing that would be – to open my eyes and see the face of my beloved rake next to mine on the pillow and to be able to ask him to repeat what he did last night.
I rose and shook away the morning drowsiness. Ten minutes later, I was dressed. When I left my bedchamber, the house, quiet and peaceful, seemed deserted. Halfway down the stairs I heard voices coming from Christopher’s study. I knew not what alerted me but, in a sudden impulse, I cautiously opened the door of the library, which was adjacent to the study and had a connecting door to it. I tiptoed to that connecting door and pressed my ear to it.
Three people were in there. One of them was Mother; there was no mistaking that shrill, slightly belligerent voice.
“My Lord Watcombe – for that is now the proper way to address you, I presume – you might well have retrieved your title and your estate but, from what you have just shared with me and Col. Brandon, I gather that your cousin has squandered away your fathers’ fortune. You, therefore, have no means to support Margaret, should she become your wife. How are you planning to remediate that?”
Christopher – kind soul that he was – came to Douglas’ defence.
“Mother-in-law, I fear that you are a trifle harsh in your judgement of His Lordship, who loves Margaret dearly. I am positively sure that he will do everything within his power to give her all the comfort she needs. Furthermore, dear Mama-in-law, might I remind you of the fact that Margaret is of age? You cannot prevent her from becoming Lady Watcombe if she has set her mind to it.”
Mother’s voice suddenly was serene and very determined. A cold shudder ran down my spine when I listened to what she was saying.
“My Lord Watcombe, dear Christopher, I know you are both deeply committed to Margaret’s welfare. Christopher, you – contrary to His Lordship – have known Margaret since she was a little girl of thirteen, at the time we came to Devonshire. Margaret has never left Devonshire since. She has not been presented at Court, nor has she ever had a London Season. Margaret does not know the world beyond this small corner of Devonshire. If she becomes your wife, My Lord Watcombe, she will be forever tied to this all too small part of England. She will be confined to the boundaries of your estate, My Lord. You know she will. Is that the kind of life you are prepared to give her? Margaret is a gentlewoman and she therefore needs to have knowledge of the world before she shackles herself to you for all eternity. If she is locked away in Devonshire for the rest of her life, she will wither and perish prematurely, cut-off from what is due to her according to her lineage. I cannot believe, My Lord, that this is what you want for her, not when you love her the way you say you do.”
A long, heavily laden silence ensued. I did not dare take a breath, anxious as I was to miss Douglas’ reply to that absurdly ridiculous remark of Mother’s. Yet to me, Douglas’s answer mattered. I desperately needed to hear what were his reflexions about all this.
Mother was liberally using emotional blackmail – with the purpose of instigating guilt on my betrothed, thinking he would deny me the life of a genuine well-bred society lady, albeit in her old-fashioned and outmoded notions of what such a life would look like.
The next moment, I could well understand why my Douglas was generally considered a rake.
He chuckled! He chuckled so impudently I could hear Mother’s sharp intake of breath. I, on the other hand, exhaled the air I had been subconsciously holding. In a cool, very detached voice, Douglas spoke.
“Mrs. Dashwood, it seems abundantly clear to me that you have not the slightest notion of your daughter’s character. If you had, you would comprehend, Ma’am, that Margaret does not care for such a life. Not only is Margaret the loveliest woman on this earth, with her fine figure, golden curls, gorgeous blue yes, and accented with her gracious elegance and sweet disposition, but she is also intelligent, courageous, astute and smart. Between the two of us we will have restored Watcombe Manor into its former wealth and appearance in no time at all. Of that, I am most sincerely convinced. Nothing will prove too much, too difficult or too unthinkable for my Margaret. She is invincible, Ma’am, and she is incredible and the light of my life. I would rather die than disappoint her.”
By now, I was no longer capable of standing on the side line. I threw open the door, which caused the three of them to start violently.
“Well said, my love!” I congratulated Douglas. “Dear sweet Mama, do not concern yourself any longer. Douglas is right; we will do whatever is necessary to make Watcombe Manor the thriving estate it was when his father died. We will make profit, I dare say, in the twinkle of an eye. And if we are fortunate enough to have some money left, next year, perhaps, we will go to London together and have a great season. Together, Mama, we will do everything together, Douglas and I.”
I took Douglas’ outstretched hand in mine and together we knelt before Mama.
“Mrs. Dashwood, Ma’am,” Douglas solemnly said, “will you please give us your blessing on our marriage? It would mean the world to us.”
“Very well, sir,” Mother answered, gesturing that we should rise. Her eyes were guarded but her smile was genuine. “However, I would like you to court my daughter properly from now on. You must leave Delaford Hall and go live somewhere other than where my daughter is staying. It is the proper thing to do. The reason I am asking this of you is that, a few days ago Mrs Jennings and I had a rather nasty experience in Torquay. Several of the well-to-do merchant spouses approached us with comments of your nightly adventures. I am sure I did not know where to look out of sheer embarrassment!”
“So the gossip mongers are already at work, then? I wonder who gave them the information in the first place,” Douglas mused. “I am sorry, Ma’am, but I cannot be held accountable for what has happened to me and Margaret, at least not entirely. I could never have foreseen that my devious cousin would have had me captured and incarcerated, nor that Margaret would come searching for me.”
“True, sir, all too true. Yet, if you had known Margaret well enough, which you would have if you had taken the time to court her properly, you could have foreseen her coming to search you.”
“Mama, I am in the room! I can hear you!” I shouted. Indignation sounded in my voice but my mother was not to be deterred.
“You know I am right, Margaret! My Lord Watcombe’s behaviour towards you has been outrageous from the start. I cannot but shudder when I think of what your reputation must be like among the decent but narrow-minded merchant families of Torquay, with whom you will have to trade when selling the produce of your husband’s estate.”
“Enough, Mama!” I interrupted. I could see she was about to reproach us again with our behaviour. “Now, if you will excuse us, Douglas and I have some private matters to discuss.”
Douglas slid his arm around my waist as we left the library and steered me towards the garden. We walked for a while amongst the profuseness of flowers and bushes of the French garden. Nature was still lush, its the deep green plumage of late summer’s plants surrounded us. It was hard to imagine that all this would decline rapidly, once September came. Almost instinctively we retraced our steps to the spot where we had been the night before.
My cheeks flushed as I recalled what we had done there on the soft velvety grass.
“Douglas?” I ventured, somewhat shyly.
“Yes, my sweet?”
He guided me to a bench, well-hidden from the house, and drew me near.
“Why did you … not finish … last night? Was I too rigid? Did I not entice you enough? You must know I have no experience in matters of lovemaking but I will learn. I want to …”
His mouth closed mine swiftly but firmly and it made me wonder if I had been too outspoken. What did I know about men? They, or he, might well dislike forthrightness in women! I was still fretting about that, all the while answering Douglas’ kiss with alacrity when, to my surprise I felt him chuckle against my lips.
“What? What is it, Douglas?”
He took my face into his hands and peered into my eyes, his gaze sparkling and his mouth wide with a brilliant smile. Oh, how I loved his rare but beautiful smile! I vowed myself, then and there, that I would try to make him smile every day of our lives!
“My beautiful, darling Meg,” Douglas said, “it almost frightens me to death every time I realise how young you still are. And you are, my love! You are still so innocent and I feel terrified – and guilty – of being the one who has damaged that innocence.”
He drew me into the circle of his arms so that my head rested close to his heart. He continued.
“Have you any idea how a man makes love to a woman, sweetheart?”
Of course, I had not experienced lovemaking but I had done extensive reading about the animal world. Moreover, I had occasionally witnessed cattle in the fields of Devonshire, and once I came upon a pair of mating cats in the cottage garden. I must confess that, being so close a witness to the act, I was rattled a bit.
“Well, I do know that it is not done as you did last night, Douglas. With … with your fingers, I mean. It involves the use of a man’s … member, does it not?”
Douglas was still chuckling, his mouth buried in my hair. “Yes, my precious, you have that right … proceed with your explanations, if you please?”
I was somewhat puzzled because of his obvious mirth but continued.
“This is all very … embarrassing to explain, Douglas! I was a bit confused at first but when I saw with my own eyes how a cow presented her backside to the bull and …”
“Stop! Oh please, stop!” Douglas was shaking with laughter by now, tears streamed down his cheeks. I stayed silent, feeling even more confused and – I admit – a little hurt. What had I said that was so laughable?
My rake wiped his cheeks with a handkerchief he produced from his coat pocket and became serious again. He rose from the bench, took my hand and pulled me with him in the direction of the stables.
“Come,” he said, “we must go for a little ride. There is something you need to know.”
The original series about the famed explorer stars Italian newcomer Lorenzo Richelmy
As Netflix’s repertoire of original programming increases, so does its variety. The site tiptoes into different genre territory with each new release. Political drama? Werewolf thriller? Animated comedy featuring a talking horse? Check, check, check. Netflix’s latest original comes to subscribers in the form of a period drama. Marco Polo, the aptly titled show about 13th-century explorer Marco Polo, will premiere its 10-episode first season on December 12. The show stars Italian actor Lorenzo Richelmy in the titular role, along with Twin Peaks’ Joan Chen and Prometheus’ Benedict Wong. Chinese actress Zhu Zhu will portray Polo’s love interest in the show, which will all take place across the court of Kublai Khan. As previously noted, the show will also be riddled with “sexual intrigue” and “political skullduggery.”
Netflix has also released a few stills, which, if viewed in order, confirm that Polo does indeed explore, encounter Chinese authority, fall in love, and engage in some sort of battle.
A John Thornton / Margaret Hale Fantasy Novel
Margaret Hale was strolling the cool breezes outside on the veranda, feeling a bit hot and exhausted but happy over the evening so far. She had been whirled and twirled around the ballroom many times. She would have been asked again had she not stepped outside of the hall into the moonlit night at Hanover House. This fine historical building was a place for meetings and social occasions. Her graduation from finishing school was not far off and she knew she would miss these exciting times and experiences, but mostly all the friends she felt she was making for her lifetime, especially Grace. In the last half year, the graduates were exposed to the gentlemen from the nearby college for fancy balls and casual dances. On Sunday, the Hanover House was turned into a fine dining facility so if a young lady wished to be taken to a nice dinner she was allowed to be invited to a Hanover dinner by one of the seniors of the men’s college. Margaret kept in touch with two other ladies that had graduated last year and was surprised to find they went on to marry a gentleman from that local prestigious college.
Margaret only had a brother and her father left. Her mother, who had been a Lady, had left Margaret with money for finishing school, a small allowance to get her through her single years, a significant dowry and all of her jewels. Her father was still the clergy of a small local parish outside of Helstone and her brother was in the Royal Navy somewhere near Africa. She missed him as he rarely made it home. Margaret was of modest height, slightly below average, but that small frame supported a nicely curved body and full bosom, small waist and nicely rounded hips. Her eyes were a shade somewhere between blue and green depending on the light and the colors that surrounded her face and her light brown tresses. She felt she was pretty but would never be devastatingly beautiful like many of the other women school mates.
“Miss Hale?” She heard as she turned to see Trevor Tennant attempting to gain her attention in a quiet manner. “I saw you leave the room and probably for the same reason that I am here. The room has become warm and stuffy. What a nice difference out here, don’t you think?”
“I do indeed, Mr. Tennant. I thoroughly enjoy the dance, all of them that have been held here. It was just a moment there I felt I needed to take the air. It’s lovely tonight, too. The stars are bright, the music is gay, and we are young and eager to fly,” Margaret said wistfully while gazing into the heavens.
“Would you mind dancing with me, here, outside? Trevor nervously asked. “The music is slow, unfortunately, not a waltz, but I dare say we have no room here for that.”
“Why, yes, Mr. Tennant, I would be delighted.”
Trevor Tennant moved closer and took her hand, advancing her toward a more open area — away from the assorted outdoor furniture. He slid his hand lightly to the middle of her back at her waist and offered his other hand for her to take. The dance consisted of some intricate steps and many times they would part and revolve around the other eventual coming back to the original position of how they started.
Margaret wasn’t sure but it seemed each new time coming back into his arms, he held her a bit closer. It was starting to feel embarrassingly too close, but she wasn’t sure that she minded all that much. As a lady though, she felt she must mildly protest such advances. “Mr. Tennant, I fear you are holding me too closely for propriety.”
“We are alone out here, I see no propriety watchers. The question is, is it too close for you?”
Margaret wanted to stammer out an answer to that but didn’t know if she should tell the truth or not. Down deep, it felt nice and warm, and protective. “Mr. Tennant, you have me at a disadvantage.”
“As it should be,” he replied. “I have watched you from afar for many months through the balls and dances here. I think we have danced before, too. At this moment, I have you all to myself and I want the advantage. I’d like to tell you of my feelings for you.”
The music ended at that moment and Mr. Trevor did not take his arms from her. Instead, he lifted her chin so her face was to his and he gently bent down and gave her a light kiss.
The sound of voices from others arriving on the veranda immediately separated them from each other at a proper distance. Trevor kept looking at Margaret trying to gauge her totally confused expression. “Miss Hale, should I apologize?”
“I . . . I have never been kissed before.” Margaret continued to diagnose the all of it. The sensation was divine. The propriety was out of bounds. His expectations from this point forward, were what? “No . . . no, you don’t need to apologize. It was very nice.”
“Nice, maybe, but was it welcomed?” He asked, as he guided her to a more secluded area away from the emerging dancers.
Several of Trevor’s school friends saw him in the corner with a woman and walked over to tease him. Before Margaret could form her answer, they arrived.
“Hey, Trev, aren’t you going to introduce us to this fair maiden?” Lord Robert said, already slurring his words from too much drink.
“Would you gentlemen kindly leave us to our conversation?” Trevor politely asked.
“Oh c’mon, Trev. You’ve talked about this young lady for months; it’s time we meet who has taken your fancy.”
William was pulling on Lord Robert to leave them alone. He could see they were uninvited.
Margaret was very embarrassed at all the fuss and took off in hurry through the ballroom, to the ladies area.
“Damn you, Robert. See what you’ve done.” Trevor said, heading off in Margaret’s direction.
Lord Robert, staggered backwards spilling his champagne glass, hollering, “Sorry Trev. I just wanted to meet this apparition you keep referring to.”
The other school mate, William, took Lord Robert’s coat lapels in hand and led him over to a table and chair set and shoved him into it.”
William, standing over Lord Robert, watching him swill the remainder of his drink, spoke up. “You nobles! You think you can just walk over anyone. You think your title gives you a life’s permission to act in any fashion you please. You disregard others and their feelings. I’ll be glad when graduation is over and I can be away from your lot. There aren’t too many nobles this semester, but you all act the same. Do you have prep schools that all of you go to? Are there classes in condescension, rudeness, bawdiness, egomania in this school? Somewhere, all of you, with few exceptions, seem to learn the same lessons. I’ve said all I want and you won’t remember it anyway.” William left Lord Robert to fend for himself and went in search of Trevor.
Margaret felt she had hidden away long enough. The redness from crying had left her face and she looked presentable once again. However, the rumblings in her stomach wouldn’t subside. As utterly rude as Lord Robert was, it was a small blessing as she didn’t know how to reply to Mr. Tennant. She’d had no particular interest in him before this evening. She only felt he was going to be a fine gentleman. The kiss, however, was something she had looked forward to experiencing. A lot of the other girls talked about how one gentleman kissed compared to another. To Margaret’s way of thinking, kissing was only done when you had strong feeling for the person you were to kiss. Maybe she was wrong. It could be just one step above the admiration level. It was a gentleman’s way of speaking words, he couldn’t say. She put her hand on the doorknob to leave and still had no answer should Mr. Tennant find her again. The evening was getting late so Margaret decided to slip out and walk back to her residence on the school’s square.
Successful in her escape, she had to wade through the coaches and the drivers waiting outside for the masters. Fortunately, they seemed more of a gentleman than Lord Robert and asked if she needed an escort. It bothered them that a woman was alone on foot in the dark. “Thank you kindly, but my residence is just up this hill. Your concern is appreciated.” Margaret said, holding her skirt above her ankles as she waded through the dampening grass. It took her about two minutes to see her residence in sight when she was suddenly and violently grabbed from behind. She was able to shout out one loud scream before a handkerchief was shoved in her mouth. She was roughly thrown to the ground while she hammered her arms against her attacker and kicked her legs as hard as she could. She felt a smashing backhand across her face and was stunned into stillness for a moment.
“You keep that up little Miss Hale, and it will get worse.”
Margaret managed to pull the handkerchief from her mouth and let out another scream. This time she received a heavy blow to her chin, not quite taking her consciousness but leaving her unable to defend herself any longer. She could feel her dress being ruffled over her head and hands reaching and pulling frantically at her petticoats, looking for entrance to her undergarment. She was going to be raped. She wanted to die.
In the distance of her haze she thought she could hear voices. The plundering of her body seemed to stop and someone was covering her up with a cloak. Another lifted her head and she heard the words, “You’re going to be all right. The bastard is being well and truly taken care of right now. How do you feel, Miss?”
“I’m now sure yet. It’s all so dim in my memory. My face hurts, I know. Who are you?”
“Miss, it’s about six of the drivers you just walked through. We heard your screams but couldn’t find you in the dark until the second scream.”
“Do you know if . . . have I been . . .” Margaret was interrupted.
“Miss, I cannot be sure. There is a small portion of blood on your clothes, but you should see a doctor, immediately. You have many scratches to your abdomen and thighs besides the beating to your face. Please, let’s see if you can sit up.”
The two drivers with her tried successfully to get Margaret into a sitting position. The three of them were aware of the commotion still going on between the other four drivers, her assailant and she thought she’d heard Trevor’s voice.
“Do you know who attacked me?”
“Yes, Miss. It was Lord Robert. And probably nothing will be done about it.”
Arriving at her side next came Trevor and William taking over the positions of the drivers. It seemed some chaperone heads were just behind them. “Driver?” Margaret spoke in trembling tones, “Thank you and all of the others for my rescue. I wanted to die when I realized what was going to happen. Thanks to you, it didn’t last long.”
“Glad to be of help, Miss. I will pass your words onto the others. I wish we could have found you sooner.”
“Before you leave, what is your name?”
“Miss, I am William Ripley.” He topped his driver cap and left.
Trevor and William helped Margaret up to see if she was steady on her feet. Trevor noticed the trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth. “Miss Hale, I am so dreadfully sorry for this. I would have gladly escorted you home. I am so ashamed at the behavior of my once friend.”
“Mr. Tennant, please, you have no blame in this whatsoever. It was all due to my stupidity to walk home and that Lord Robert.”
“No, I feel my actions encouraged you to leave. As a gentleman it is almost unconscionable to believe I put you in such a situation. Please forgive me? I have learned a valuable lesson at your expense.”
“If you must feel forgiven, you are. My naiveté had more to do with it then you did. Let’s not talk about that anymore.”
A few of the finishing school chaperones arrived and assisted Miss Hale to the infirmary. It was diagnosed as rape due to the rupture of her maidenhead, but there was no deposit of Lord Robert’s seed found within her. She suffered some minor tearing and bruising in her vaginal area. Everything would heal, possibly leaving a small scar or two on her thigh from his fingernails. The worst part for Margaret was going to be the memory of the experience and how it may change her outlook on life and her attitude towards men. Educated and well aware that most men were not like that, still she doubted her closeness to anyone for some time to come.
Margaret’s twentieth birthday arrived only a few days before graduation. She was surprised not to have heard any word from her father, yet. She was expecting to hear him wish her a nice day for her birthday and some arrangements about her coming home next week. She would have to hire a coach to bring her home from London, mainly for the purpose of all the baggage she had collected being away from home for two years. A train ride was out of the question unless she boxed all of her possession and had them shipped as freight.
Still receiving no word from her father, the day after graduation, Margaret started to feel fear about her father. Was he ill, too ill to write? She decided to box her possessions and have them shipped and she’d take the train. Traveling the six hour ride, Margaret had plenty of time to reflect on her life and its future. Her thoughts drifted towards how she would fare should her father pass from her. She would be alone in a large house, while her brother sailed the waves a thousand miles south. After two years of merriment with her female acquaintances, bright dresses, balls, picnics, and the nicer young men, she feared reality would not match it. Somehow she had to mold her gay self into a woman that could blend with her environment. Helstone was no match for London. She wasn’t even sure there were many gentlemen of whose acquaintance she could make. For two years her life had been rushing ahead full steam expecting on the outside what she had learned on the inside of the school. She pondered the enormous difference of what lie ahead.
Margaret had written her father several days ago telling him when to expect her home and to meet her at the train station. As the train pulled in, Margaret looked out and didn’t seem him about. A porter helped her exit the coach with her bag. Feeling lost she walked toward the carriages for hire when she felt a touch on her shoulder. Still remembering her attacker, she whirled fiercely to face who touched her.
“I’m sorry, Miss Hale. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Hello, Mr. Bell. It’s nice to see you. I fear my reaction to your touch is caused from an attack I suffered while at school. My attacker approached me in much the same way. I’m sorry for my display.”
“Well, I am certainly horrified to hear about your attack. Your father had not mentioned that to me.” Mr. Bell said with real concern.
“It wasn’t all that long ago and I didn’t want to worry him, so I never told him. Do you know why he isn’t here to greet me?” Margaret stopped walking to ask. “Something’s happened to him, hasn’t it? Is he so very ill?”
Mr. Bell carried her satchel, leading her towards the carriages. “Margaret, I will speak when we are in the coach.”
Margaret could feel the tears welling in her eyes. If it hadn’t been bad news he would have alleviated her concern there and then, and he hadn’t.
As they approached Mr. Bell’s carriage, the driver had the door open and took the baggage setting it in a boot in the back. Mr. Bell handed Margaret inside then followed, sitting beside her. He could see Margaret was crying and he took her hand and began to rub it. “Margaret, I am afraid I have the worst news possible.”
“Father has passed away, hasn’t he?” Margaret couldn’t help but let out the sobs that she had been holding back. “Tell me what happened.”
“Margaret, I have been your father’s closest friend since college, I decided to be the one to tell you. There is even worse news than your father. I am taking you to my home because I think I will need to tend to you. This is the worst hardship I have ever encountered and I need to help you through it.”
“I can’t imagine what can be worse than loosing father, but get it all out, please.”
“I would rather wait until you are at my home. You will need a brandy. Just a few more minutes until we’re there. I can tell you that it was I who made the decision to wait a few days in telling you and allow you to go through your graduation ceremony. There was nothing for you to do here anyway. Here we are.”
The driver opened the door and Mr. Bell assisted a trembling Margaret out and to his front door. Mary, Mr. Bell’s live-in housekeeper came to open the door. “Mary, fix two brandies, please. Is there a room prepared for Miss Hale?
“Yes, sir. I’ll take her belongings up when the driver brings them in.”
“Thank you, Mary.”
Mr. Bell removed his coat and hat, laying them across a chair in the parlor. Margaret had walked over to the settee and was staring into the flames which kept the damp away in the early fall.
Mr. Bell sat next to Margaret. Mary came back to the room with the brandies and handed them to each one. He saw that Margaret was already in a state of disbelief and he felt bad that he was going to make it worse.
“Miss Hale, drink your brandy while I tell you what has transpired recently.”
Without looking up Margaret sipped the brandy. She was finding it difficult to breath, much less swallow.”
“All right, Mr. Bell, I am ready.”
“Yes, your father had been feeling unwell for several weeks. It seemed to be a problem with his stomach and the doctor had him in bed with mild soups for a few days. He was being tended to by a nurse’s aide but that was not what took him.” Bell paused.
“Please, continue,” pleaded Margaret.
“Four days ago your father received a note from the Navy . . .”
“Frederick?” Margaret looked wide-eyed at Mr. Bell.
“Yes, I am afraid so. It seems that Frederick had contracted malaria but never wrote home about it. Frankly, he would have been too weak to try. He passed away about ten days ago and upon your father reading the Navy’s letter, he suffered a massive heart attack. Your father died quickly and probably felt little to no pain.”
This book will contain some explicit sensual scenes later in the book. If that is offensive to you in a Romance novel, you may be well advised to not begin this book. – Loyal Wynyard
My eyes were riveted on Douglas’ suddenly ashen face, which showed the expressed shock and disbelief he was experiencing. He walked slowly toward Petite-Maman, gently took her hands in his and spoke to her in urgent French. I roughly translated their conversation on behalf of the rest of the audience. It sounded like this:
“I beg you, Ma’am, are you certain of the baby’s age?”
“I assure you, Monsieur, that the baby was approximately eight pounds in weight. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the neck and he must have died in the womb which caused the beginning of birth.”
“When was this, the birth?”
“Ten years ago, not long before Christmas.”
“So it is true …” Douglas murmured, “Christina and I met in June …”
My heart, in sudden emotion, went out to him yet I could not move or venture a gesture of comfort. Douglas’ own apparent distress proved that Christina Finney must have been very dear to his own heart since, ten years after her death, she still had so great a power over him. Not for the first time did I feel extremely jealous of the Finney girl.
Marianne’s eager voice roused me from my sombre thoughts with an alacrity that was so very much in her nature.
“Oh, it is indeed true! Dear Mr Spencer, she did deceive you then! She must have been already with child when she came to Torquay and her sole purpose was to trick some unfortunate young man into marriage, so as to give the child the benefit of his name and position.”
At this point, Christopher, her husband, interrupted her in his quiet, determined way.
“I fear, my love, that it might not have been the only reason for the Finneys’ coming to Devonshire. During my stay in Liverpool I found out that Finney was in dire straits with regard to his financial circumstances. He was in great need for funds and his creditors were closing in on him quite rapidly. Finney and his friend, Wilkinson, had invested a great deal of their money in some very insecure schemes which proved to be disastrous. Finney had lost virtually all his money while Wilkinson, whose father had just recently died, was able to survive on his newly received inheritance money. Ten years after the affair which drove Spencer from his home, however, Wilkinson found himself in equally disastrous pecuniary difficulties as his friend, yet he had managed to keep the creditors at bay by the promise of inheriting Sir Matthew’s fortune and estate. He came to live here as soon as Douglas was sent away to Jamaica. He wormed himself into the esteem of Sir Mathew, who was very distressed by the conduct of his only son.”
“Oh, oh, I cannot believe how it was possible for Sir Matthew to treat his son that way!” Marianne exclaimed, “Surely it would have been preferable to …”
Douglas’ wavering voice stopped her in mid-sentence. Fighting to hide his emotional distress – and only barely succeeding – he let his distasteful gaze travel over the assembly.
“No, I will not tolerate any disapproval of my good father. He was right in punishing me, for had I not done exactly what he most disapproved of? I had indeed seduced Christina! I had known her intimately, even if I was not the father of her child …”
His words died away in a dreadful silence and everybody sat staring at him with compassion. The silence dragged on for several minutes and, although I wanted desperately to break it, my constricted throat could not find the words I wanted to force out.
Elinor’s calm, level voice took over for me.
“Christopher, did you happen to discover who Miss Finney’s lover was, back in Liverpool?”
“No,” our brother-in-law answered, “the girl was said to be quiet and very protected. Her father always kept her in his house and in the company of close friends and family. No one I spoke with knew of any suitors.”
Again, silence engulfed the room. I was beginning to feel dizzy with weariness and tension. I realised I was not closer to Douglas as I had been since we were rescued from the underground passage. He withdrew from me whenever we were not alone.
The soft French speaking voice of Petite-Maman spoke to me and I startled.
“Mademoiselle, do you still have the letter I gave you, that day when we met on the moors?”
I was confused at first and I stared at her, not comprehending what she was talking about. Then, belatedly, I remembered and took the cream-coloured envelope with its blue ribbon and seal, from my pocket, where I had kept it ever since she gave it to me. I transferred it from skirt to skirt with each passing day and each change of clothes – it never left me. Like a talisman one does not want to be parted from. I was still unable to utter the slightest word but I handed the envelope to Douglas, who accepted it from my trembling hand. He tilted his inquiring eyebrows and looked at me.“Margaret, what is this?”
“It is for you, Monsieur Spencer, from the young lady I attended. She pressed it into my hands just before she died,” Petite-Maman said, looking forcibly into Douglas’ eyes.
“My love, will you not open it?,” I urged. “This clearly is Christina’s last message to you and she must have felt guilty …”
The words died in my throat as I watched yet again the emotions on Douglas’ countenance. He stood very upright and rigid and held the letter in his hand. He stared at it, frozen in memories of the girl who had engaged his heart for the first time so long ago. Christina Finney might have wounded Douglas by her betrayal, yet she had never lost that special place in his heart – that magical, deep touch of first love. For that, I would always hate her.
Elinor’s husband Edward suddenly stood and walked over to Douglas. He turned toward the rest of us and, in his quiet, soothing parson’s voice, addressed us.
“I think we should let matters rest for tonight. Mr Spencer, as well as our Margaret, have been through quite an ordeal. They need some peace and quiet so that they can reflect on what has been revealed here.”
“Quite right,” Christopher agreed. “Spencer, old chap, I suggest you stay here for tonight. Your room has been readied so that you can get a decent night’s sleep. Tomorrow we can attend to the most pressing matters of how to retrieve your inheritance. I have asked my lawyer, Mr Morley, to come over from Torquay and advise us on the legal issues of your late father’s will. I hope you do not find this too forthright of me?”
Douglas roused himself from a state of apathy with some difficulty, nodded and said: “No, Brandon, not at all. Thank you, Mr Ferrars, and you too, Brandon, for the suggestion of retiring to bed. I think I will give in to it.”
Without a word to me or the rest of us, he turned on his heels and motioned to Jack Twinkler to follow him out of the room.
The night breeze, wafting through the open window of my bedchamber on Delaford’s second floor, was hot and sultry. It did nothing to cool the room, beside stirring up whatever air and dust it contained. I lay on top of the covers in my flimsiest muslin nightdress, perspiring and unhappy, because I could not find sleep. No, I mused to myself, unhappy does not cover my discomfort and sleep lack. Miserable is more like the way I felt, utterly and deeply miserable, and I was at my wits’ end about how I would ever be come cheerful again.
When had my luck changed? Why does Douglas behave as he does now? Always, when there were people around, he seemed to withdraw from me. It is a very different behaviour from the one he shows me when we are alone. When we were cooped up in that horrible passage, he was a tower of strength and gentleness. He saved my life with no regard to his own personal risks. He had asked me to be his wife in such a romantic way that I still feel weak in the knees from the sheer loveliness of it. At that moment, as in all the moments we were alone, I knew that he loved me as deeply as I loved him.
But tonight, with Christina’s professing letter burning in his hand like a piece of red hot coal, Douglas looked like a stranger to me, wrapped up as he had been in memories of the girl, he gave his heart to, when he was no more than a boy. It was doubtless that he had indeed loved Christina. Worse, he still had some feelings left over for her, or perhaps regret, guilt, or bereavement. I need to find out what it was that stirred him so, if I was ever to become happy with him. I would have to prove to him the depth of my commitment.
I gave up the struggle, rose and went to the open window. I gazed into the hot August night with its deep indigo sky pierced with a myriad of star pinpricks and adorned by a waning moon. The garden of Delaford lay beneath my window. It appeared like an enchanted kingdom beckoning me to explore it. I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders and went outside through the drawing room’s French windows and onto the terrace. The slate flagstones felt cool beneath my bare feet and I slowly walked toward the smooth lawn. The grass was soft and thick and I strode over the lawn’s width toward the Home Wood. In contrast to Watcombe Manor’s neglected landscape, here there was meticulous caring of the grounds. No undergrowth or weeds disfigured this estate. I reached the wood and faced the lawn and house, hugging my shawl about me. Delaford was a lovely house and a happy one; it sheltered Christopher and Marianne and their children, my nieces, Amelia and Emily. Soon there would be a new baby and I knew how fervently, this time, Marianne was hoping for a boy.
“A penny for them …” a deep, very familiar voice behind me spoke.
Douglas was in dishabille and wore nothing but shirt and breeches – he looked devastatingly handsome. My startled gaze roamed over his tall, lean body and its broad shoulders and thin waist. His long, muscular legs ended at large, strong-boned feet. Bare feet. His were so incredibly attractive that my throat tightened as if I were back in the underground passage again and I could not breathe.
I took in the smooth triangle of chest in the V-shaped opening of his shirt, from which rose the perfect column of his neck. His face, pale in the weak moonlight, was finely chiselled – the smooth, strong bones, displaying the strength of his nose and jaw and the sensuality of his mouth. His eyes, however, were unreadable and appeared almost black in the night.
The shawl fell from my shoulders and out of my trembling hands, forming a large white triangle on the lawn’s darker shaded area. I was suddenly immersed in heat, blood coursing loudly through my veins and pounding deafeningly in my ears. Heaven help me, but I wanted him then and there. When he took a step toward me and extended a hand, I grasped it into my own, sank down onto the shawl and drew him on top of me. His long, lean body covered me completely. For the time of a heartbeat, Douglas supported himself on his elbows and gazed down on me, his eyes now a pale grey in the low, near moonless night. Once again his eyes were unreadable.
“Meggie …” he said in hoarse, almost gruff voice, his lips parting as if he needed to breathe heavily. The weight of him, even as he supported himself on his elbows, was almost too much for my slender body but I did not care. I welcomed him as it felt so good, so right. I felt the pressure of his erection against my equally aroused womanly place. My whole body suffused with heat. Urgently I raked my hands through the heavy black mass of his gorgeous hair. Instinctively my lower body came upward to press even closer to him; he uttered a low, throaty groan.
“Ah … woman, what are you doing … do you want me to ruin you here and now? If I do not get up, I will. You are so lovely, my Meg, you smell so good and your body is so soft and warm against mine …”
“I want you to love me, Douglas, here and now … I have waited so long to have you as my lover, please, do not deny me …”
Unable to suppress a sob, I drew his head down and pressed my mouth upon his.
Homesickness can do funny things to people. It can create fierce patriotism where once there was just allegiance; it can create an idealised society in the mind, one in which no one is ever cruel or selfish or rude because that’s the society the homesick person wishes to return to; and it can distort language, so that emotive terms such as the name of home itself should be avoided in case of excessive lower-lip quiver.
Blighty comes out of feelings like these. It’s an affectionate nickname for Britain (or more specifically England) taken from the height of the Victorian rule of India, that was first used in the Boer War in Africa, and popularised on the fields of Western Europe in the First World War.
The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word is a distortion of a distortion: the Urdu word vilayati either means foreign, British, English or European, and it became a common term for European visitors to India during the 1800s. A mishearing changed the v to a b, and then bilayati became Blighty, as a term to describe British imports from home, such as soda water. There again, it was also claimed by Rupert Graves that it derives from the Hindustani word for home: blitey.
Having picked up some use during the Boer War (because nothing breeds in-jokes and slang like soldiers living and fighting in close proximity), the term really took off during the long years of trench warfare in World War I. Soldiers would talk openly of dear old Blighty, indicating not only a longing to be away from some of the most horrific battlegrounds in human history, but also a wish to return to a time when such horrors were unthinkable. This elegiac tone was caught and carried by the War Poets: Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, both of whom used the word when describing their experiences.
The War Office soon picked up on this, releasing a free magazine for active servicemen called Blighty, which contained poems and stories and cartoons from men on the front line. Then there were slang terms like Blighty wound, an injury good enough to get a soldier sent home, but not life-threatening, as depicted in the 1916 Music Hall song “I’m Glad I’ve Got a Bit of a Blighty One” by Vesta Tilley.