Anna Austen Leigh
Clarissa Lovell was a young woman of just the age when peaches begin to bloom in the complexion, and just the degree of beauty that causes mischief without tragedy. Worse, she was a young woman unguided by any parent or guardian; an orphan from an early age, and now come up to London with a country friend newly married and eager for the delights of Ranelagh and Vauxhall. Her schooling neglected, Clarissa had educated herself by reading her way through her uncle’s library, and as a result her head was stuffed full of poetry, yet she knew nothing about the world she was about to enter.
Well, she was curious about marriage. Virginia had seemed to blossom in the last few months; as had her tailors’ bills. Yet she seemed still on terms of the utmost formality with her husband. She hardly looked at him when they talked; she merely shrugged when he spoke to her; in the carriage, they sat straight side by side like Egyptian statues in profile, looking straight ahead.
Clarissa walked arm in arm with Virginia, and that was more than Virginia’s husband ever did. They shared everything; parasols, dresses, even a bed. On one night when there was a thunderstorm they clung together, afraid; and yet Clarissa had never seen Mr. Vaughan enter Virginia’s room. But somehow she felt that this was not something she could ask about; not yet.
She found some satisfaction for her curiosity in Mr. Vaughan’s library. She had been brought up well, and taught to read Latin, though with some difficulty; and one day, as she loitered waiting for Virginia to finish dressing for the pleasure garden, she ran her eyes over the shelves looking for something to read. There was Horace—too well known to her; Virgil—too serious for a summer afternoon; Vitruvius—too mechanical; Pliny—too gossipy, too full of tall tales. Perhaps it would be Catullus’ love poems, she thought, or Ovid and the myths of lovers turned to trees, wood, stone… Then on a shelf in the corner, the gold lettering on the spine lit by a stray sunbeam, she saw a small octavo, The Mysteries of Aphrodite.
Idly, casually, and yet with some excitement, she slipped it out from the bookcase and felt the grainy leather of the spine in her hand, weighing the book before she decided to open it. The frontispiece showed Adam and Eve, standing proudly in front of the tree; the serpent had not spoken to them yet, she decided, for neither was wearing a fig leaf, thus they could not yet have discovered such virtues as modesty that required preservation.
She turned a few pages, idly. This was disappointing, she thought; a disquisition on the circulation of the blood and the creation of the embryo. She might have read as much in Harvey or Sir Thomas Browne. She turned a few more pages, noting two schematic diagrams of internal organs, as dull as geometrical demonstrations.
She was about to put the book back on the shelf when it fell open at a more interesting picture. Here was a periwigged noble, his long coat tails thrown out behind him, kneeling in front of a splendid armchair, in which sat a lady in a fine dress, her hair pulled up high. With one hand she took his right hand to touch her beauty spot; the other hand was buried in the frills of her dress.
Clarissa looked closer. Now she could see how the lady’s bodice was open, her dark nipples in full view; and how the fingers of the lady’s hand spread open her nether lips, while the smile on her face was inscrutable, placid.
She knew there was a magnifying glass in the library somewhere; she had seen Mr. Vaughan using it when he was reading his estate rent books and accounts. Breathing a little heavily, she went over to the desk by the window, taking the book with her. There was the glass, with its mother of pearl handle, the lens shining in the sun. She took it up and with its aid resumed her inspection of the picture.
The nobleman’s breeches were undone, and with his left hand he had seized on a portion of his anatomy the existence of which Clarissa had, till now, only suspected; his grasp was firm. She saw his lips slightly open, his eyes fixed on his mistress’ nipples. Hesitantly she reached her own fingers into her bodice and felt her nipple; it was strangely hard, and when she touched it her breath became short, and she felt her blood pulse and her legs tremble. She pulled Mr. Vaughan’s leather chair over and sat down, leaning her elbow on the desk to support her wavering hand.
Well, she thought, this is interesting. They appear to be enjoying themselves. She turned the page.
On this page the picture was clearly marked the French king and his mistris, and the story had proceeded some little way. The man had approached more closely, and his mouth sucked at the lady’s nipple; while she had let go of his right hand, which brushed her lips and cheek, and had taken hold instead of a more interesting part of her lover.
Clarissa looked across to the right hand page in hope of enlightenment. This is intriguing, she thought; it’s part English, part Latin. “While Marie holds his verge” (so that is what it is called, she thought) “he kisses her ripe breasts, and she vaginam suam cum digitis excitat, that she may enjoy him with more pleasure when he shall place mentulam in cunnum suum.” He shall put his something in her something, she thought; and while she was mystified, she was excited, interested to see the next picture.
She was surprised when she turned over to see that the lady had turned her back on her king; she knelt on the chair, her skirts rucked up around her waist, showing clearly the little cleavage between her buttocks, and the tight little anus and rippling folds of her vagina, as it said in the book. Meanwhile the king still had hold of his tool, and now she could see more clearly the little sack swinging under it and the scattering of hair on his stomach.
She was turning the pages faster now, not quite understanding her excitement. In the next picture, the king was penetrating his mistress from behind, and the mistress had thrown her head back and was crying. Why was she crying? Clarissa wondered; was it not pleasurable? And with a little thrill, she thought; I would not cry.
She was suddenly aware of a tautness at her stomach. Experimentally, she tightened her muscles, and felt her whole body spring to life. She leaned forward, pushing her burning vagina into the velvet of the chair, feeling the warmth and firmness of the stuffed cushion beneath her.
She looked a little closer at the picture then, trying to make out what went where in the close cross-hatchings that intersected at a point between them. But this picture was less clear than the previous one, and she turned the page again.
The position had changed completely now, and the mistress knelt on the floor, her skirts pulled up before her and one hand fingering between her legs as she sucked on her king’s sceptre. Her mouth was stretched around it, her eyes open wide as she tipped her head back; but the king’s eyes were closed, his head inclined, a light smile on his lips.
Clarissa licked her lips, making her tongue as hard as she could, curling it round the notch in her top lip. As she did so she turned the page; and here in the last picture the king was crying out, his tool free of his mistress’s mouth, shooting gouts of white over the cross-hatched background as if the page had been bleached in spots; and his mistress lay back on the floor, her legs parted, her hand between her legs, two fingers sunk into herself, her mouth open as if to breathe out her last breath.
Clarissa was on fire; her body was a blade of sunlight. Then she heard feet in the hallway; quickly, she pulled the desk drawer open and pushed the book into it. She had only just done so when she heard the click of the handle and the door opened. Mr. Vaughan entered the library and came straight toward her.
“Have you seen a manuscript lying on the desk?” he asked. “I have to go to St Paul’s, and while I was there I thought I should show my new work to Tonson. He might decide to print it—if I paid him, of course.”
She tried to speak, but her voce stuck in her throat.
“My dear—are you feeling quite well?”
“It is so hot,” she stammered. “I shall be well in a minute.”
“I did not leave the manuscript in the drawer, did I?” said Vaughan, and made a move toward her.
She thought quickly.
“Is it wrapped in pink ribbon?” she asked.
“Lord no! It is a small book, about six inches by four, and bound in morocco.”
Gods, she thought, just like The Mysteries of Aphrodite. I must stop him opening the drawer.
“Oh, there is nothing there but paper bound in ribbon. I looked for some to write a letter, but it will not do; it is curled at the edges.”
“Where have I left the book?” Vaughan cried in exasperation, and then turned to her again, his face softening. “Do you need assistance, Clarissa dear?”
“No,” she said slowly, “I shall recover, once the sun stops burning me through the window. Perhaps I shall move the chair to the other side of the library where it is cooler.”
“Allow me.” She stood up, moving in front of the desk where the drawer was not, she saw, quite shut. He took the chair swiftly, and carried it across the room, setting it down by the door.
“If there is anything I can do,” he said, looking hard at her.
“I think not.”
“Call me if you require anything.” He went out, pulling the door gently to behind him.
She waited until she heard his footsteps move away, then swiftly she pulled the book out of the drawer and hid it under her skirt. She moved to where he had put the chair, almost in front of the door; then thought again, and went to the window, and pulled the muslin curtain across. Again she crossed the room, and sat down in the chair with her back to the door, pushing it back against the door handle. She threw one leg over the arm of the chair, and pulled her skirt up, then her petticoats.
She looked down at the cleft between her legs. Short sandy hair covered the soft mound below her belly, but as she pulled the lips apart with one hand she could see a hard nub between them, and the glistening fullness of the lips, fuller and softer than her mouth. Fascinated, she put her hand toward them, rubbing the top of each lip with her middle finger; then she let her finger sink between them, feeling the warmth and moisture. She left her hand there for a while, hardly moving it, just feeling this strange new thing.
She remembered the book then. It was strange how that little nub of flesh she had never appeared in the book; but then, she looked down again and saw how it was covered in hair; perhaps it just was not visible in the pictures, small as they were. Gently she parted the light hair around it, and as she did so the skin at its base stretched tight, and it seemed to jump, and protectively she settled the palm of her hand over it and pushed down, relishing the sudden rush of blood.
Clarissa took the book out again and found the picture with the king penetrating the woman from behind. She looked closely but she still could not quite see where he was pushing into. Turning slightly sideways, so that her buttocks lay one over the other, she stretched her arm down her back, pretending that it belonged to someone else; and closing her eyes to imagine herself better in the picture, she extended her index finger as straight as she could, and pushed it between her buttocks and at the tight pucker of her anus.
At first it was hard, and she wondered whether she had made the wrong assumptions about the picture; then suddenly, it seemed to relax, and her finger was inside the hot darkness. She squeezed her eyes shut and imagined a man’s tool there, and she felt the little nub of flesh under her pubic hair throb again, she began to move her finger inside now, and with the middle finger of the same hand she felt the smooth skin between her anus and the rich lips, and then the moist opening where the lips rose up on each side. She was rocking now from side to side, making her fingers slide against her and into her.
Suddenly she heard a noise outside; voices, she couldn’t tell whose. She sat up, smoothed her skirt over her knees. Could they see through the muslin curtain? She listened carefully and heard a man and woman. They were too far for her to hear the words. She got up, trembling with excitement or fear, she wasn’t sure which, and went to the window. Standing behind one curtain, she looked carefully through the narrow slit between the two curtains.
The two people were standing down by the lake; it was Virginia, but she couldn’t recognize the man; not Mr. Vaughan. The man was holding the painter of a boat; Virginia stepped down into it. They wouldn’t come near the window, then. Secure, Clarissa threw herself back into the chair, her legs over the arms, her lips open to her view, glistening and red. She lay the book down on the floor; she didn’t need it any more.
With her right hand she felt the lips standing proud and hard now, and pushed her fingers down between them till she came to the hidden entrance. She bent forward, but still she couldn’t quite see it; she could see the little bud standing clear of her hair, and smoothed it down with the palm of her hand. It was good. Keeping the heel of her hand pressing down on it, she let her fingers crawl down her lips, feeling them fall apart, finally finding again the little ripple of flesh around the tiny hole below. She felt round it with a fingertip; it was wet, and she heard a tiny slipping sound as a little moisture trickled out. Bringing her finger to her mouth she tasted it; it was salty, smelled delicate and yet powerful. She put her hand back again and began to rub, sliding her two middle fingers into the little hole, further and further, and feeling at the same time the little bud of flesh rocking under her palm.
Her whole body burned; she put a hand to her breast, and felt her nipple harden. She pinched it hard, and felt it rough under her fingertips. Just then with a jerk of her body her fingers slipped further into her, and she found that she could just reach her index finger to push gently into her bottom. She was frantic now, her body tense; the chair creaked as she shifted her weight with every stroke of her fingers, and finally she felt her body tighten on her fingers, and she almost cried aloud as she was engulfed in a flood of pleasure.
* * * *
Clarissa had little understanding of what was happening to her. Thinking about it, later, she wondered how it was she had responded so directly to those pictures, without even knowing quite what they represented; and from where had that sense of furtiveness come? She would have called it shame, yet she knew she didn’t feel ashamed.
The only person she knew whom she could ask was Virginia, and yet she was shy of raising the question with her friend. Apart from her vague understanding that all was not well between Virginia and her husband, she felt Virginia might disapprove of her new interest.
On Sunday she faked a headache, and went into the library while everyone was at church. She found the book again, but this time she settled down to read those pages she’d skipped last time. They explained some things; the names of the organs, male and female; the physical actuality of the performance; but the perturbation she felt was not explained. It was normal, she read, for boys of twelve or thirteen to feel stirrings of the flesh; but it said nothing about girls of eighteen.
She would have to speak to Virginia, she knew. But not yet.
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