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Rosalind: London, early December 1919.
I awoke feeling absolutely marvelous, and lay there for a moment trying to recall the last time I had felt happy through and though. Years, certainly — before the war. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the smooth softness of the sheets, the comfortable weight of the quilts on top of me, the pale morning light fighting to penetrate the curtains and the faint aroma of — was it bacon? Heaven!
I turned my head to see Allison on her side, her blue eyes twinkling as she watched me.
“Good morning, darling,” she whispered. “I wasn’t sure if you’d ever wake up, you were sleeping so heavily.”
I leaned in for a kiss. “I only sleep that way when I feel both exhausted and secure.”
“What do you mean, secure?” she asked, a light frown creasing her brow.
“Well… unworried. Safe. Secure. Like nothing bad could possibly happen here.”
“Hmm. I never thought about it that way.”
“Of course not — you live here, in this warm, cozy, quiet nest.” I kissed the tip of her nose, making her giggle. “My tiny flat is quite different. Always chilly, always someone arguing somewhere, babies crying, trains whistling, and underneath it all, the eternal smell of boiled cabbage.” I half-snorted, half-laughed.
“Sounds perfectly dreadful.”
“Well, it’s not the Ritz, to be sure. But once I complete our massage training course, I’ll be able to earn my own way and live in a nicer neighborhood. I can bear it until then. It fits my budget and that’s the important thing.”
“But you shouldn’t have to bear it, darling. Come here and live with me. I’ve plenty of room.”
I laughed and rolled over to hug her, reveling in her heat and softness.
“One of the things I love best about you is your generosity of spirit, dear. But I couldn’t possibly move in with you. What would your aunt say? Suppose we fought – what then? No darling, I’ll go home later to the frightful scents of sour milk and cabbage and be grateful for my time spent with you.”
Allison gave me a look that suggested this topic was not closed and remarked that we needed to wash, dress and go down to breakfast.
“I’ll tell Auntie C that you stayed with me last night because of the snow,” she said, standing before her large wardrobe to choose the day’s clothes. I threw on a dressing gown, suddenly desperate to use the facilities, and bolted for the hall.
Upon my return, I found a gray woolen skirt and heavy silk blouse laid out on the bed.
“Try those on,” she directed, sitting in a chair and buttoning her shoes. “They’re too small for me, but they may fit you.”
They did. I smiled, enjoying the luxurious feel of the silk against my waist as I tucked in the blouse and looked in the mirror. The pale pink of the blouse suited her coloring better than mine, but it still surpassed anything I had ever owned.
As I sat down to button my shoes, I saw her nod with satisfaction.
“It may be a trifle old fashioned, but you look beautiful.”
I smiled. “I feel beautiful.”
She walked over and kissed my cheek. “You are beautiful,” she whispered in my ear.
Straightening, she grabbed my hand and headed for the door.
“Time for breakfast. You’ll love Auntie Clarissa. She’s an angel.”
As I trotted down the stairs after her, I wondered just how angelic Allison’s aunt — what was her last name? I could hardly call her Auntie Clarissa — might be when confronted with an unknown waif at breakfast. I needn’t have worried — she was all smiles when she spotted me standing shyly behind Allison.
“Do sit down, my dear! Edna — set an extra place for our guest. Do you drink coffee or tea, my dear?”
I had hardly finished saying it when a cup appeared at my elbow, followed closely by a pot containing steaming fragrant tea. I nodded my thanks to the servant, who sniffed.
“Breakfast is on the sideboard. We’re informal on Sunday mornings. Do help yourself.”
With that, Auntie Clarissa dug into an egg and looked blissful as she chewed. I gathered that conversation could wait, and stepped up to the sideboard. Remembering the stale bread I’d broken my fast on yesterday, I smiled at the breads, eggs, bacon, tomatoes and potatoes. And was that real butter for the bread? Heaven!
Allison joined me, saying in a low voice, “Truly, take all you want. Auntie C believes in a hearty breakfast. She won’t think less of you if you fill your plate. And neither will I.”
“It all looks so good! I can’t decide,” I answered in a normal tone.
“Then take one of each, dear girl,” Aunt Clarissa called from the table. “I can’t abide waverers.”
Laughing, I did as she said, piling my plate high with lovely food, then sitting down at my now-set place. I bowed my head and offered a brief, silent prayer.
I looked up to find Aunt Clarissa regarding me thoughtfully.
“How refreshing to meet a young person who believes in God,” she remarked. “I thought the war killed the faith of most of your generation.”
“Not all of us,” I answered. “True bahis firmaları faith requires that we believe in God even when He appears to be elsewhere.”
“And have you that level of faith?”
“Sometimes. Other times, not. But I always strive to find it.”
The older woman nodded approvingly. “Seek and ye shall find. One cannot ask for more. Now — what is your name, dear girl? Allison’s manners are simply shocking, but you’d think she would have introduced you by now.”
“I would have introduced Miss Evans properly had you not started talking the second we entered the room!”
It seemed clear to me from their twinkling eyes that true affection existed between them and I ate my breakfast quietly, enjoying the banter that sparked around me. They no doubt noticed my single-minded attack of my food and lapsed into silence, all of us eating with gusto.
“I do like to see a young girl enjoy her food,” Aunt Clarissa said as Edna refreshed our tea.
“I grew up on a farm, with three brothers and a sister,” I replied, still wishing I knew what to call Aunt Clarissa. “I suppose we were all hearty trenchermen.”
“Oh, splendid! I spent two years of my girlhood on a cousin’s farm in Dorset. I have very happy memories of that time.”
We spoke pleasantly of farm life for several minutes before Allison interjected.
“Is Uncle Henny coming over for chapel or do we need to dress for church?”
“Oh, yes. Dear Henny should be here any minute.”
“Uncle Henny?” I asked.
“My late husband’s older brother, Henry Harding, known as Henny because young Tommy, Allison’s eldest brother, had trouble with Rs when he was learning to talk. All the children called him that, and so did the adults, and here we are. He’s a retired clergyman. Well, as retired as a clergyman can be, I suppose. He did volunteer as a hospital chaplain during the war, of course, and he still works there of a Sunday.”
“I’m sure he was a great comfort to our boys, Mrs. Harding.” She met my eye and gave me a conspiratorial smile, as if she knew exactly what I had just done. I smiled back, acknowledging her guess. “My brother John spoke fondly of the chaplain in his hospital here after he was wounded in France.”
“Oh dear. I thought Allison had told me all of your brothers had been killed in the war.”
“David and James were killed in action. John was severely wounded in Belgium, but survived his injuries and came home. He died three months later. Flu. He was perfectly well at breakfast that day, and gone by teatime.”
I felt the familiar tears prickle behind my eyes and stared down at my tea, willing them to stay put.
“I am so very sorry for your loss, dear child.” Mrs. Harding spoke gently, all the fun gone from her voice. “The war and the flu took the very best of us, it seems. The flu took dear Sarah, Allison’s mother, too.”
I shot a quick look at Allison, but she was staring at the table and blinking back tears herself. We all sat quietly for a long moment, remembering.
A clatter down the hall announced the arrival of Uncle Henny. He poked his head in the doorframe and despite my tears, I nearly laughed. I had never seen a man who looked so much like an owl.
“I’m not too late for breakfast, am I? And who is this lovely young lady?”
“Uncle Henny, may I present Miss Rosalind Evans?”
“Don’t get up, my dear,” he said, smiling and taking my hand in his as I struggled to rise. “Sit, sit! We don’t stand on ceremony at breakfast. Far too early for protocol. Delighted to meet you, of course. Pretty girls always make breakfast taste even better!”
He winked at me and made a beeline for the sideboard even as Edna poured him a cup of tea and laid a place for him at the foot of the table.
“If I’d known you would be breaking your fast with us, I’d have ordered more food,” Mrs. Harding fussed as he piled his plate with the remnants from the sideboard.
“Don’t be absurd, Claire,” he retorted. “The war may be over, but the farms aren’t yet back up to speed and rationing hasn’t stopped. In fact, how ever did you manage to get bacon?”
“Connections, dear. It’s all in whom one knows.” She sounded smug, but I couldn’t blame her. The food was superb, however she had acquired it.
He sat down and applied himself to his meal with the same determination all of us had shown earlier. I smiled, liking this family more and more.
“Rosalind’s late fiancé wanted to be a clergyman,” Allison told him.
He peered at me, looking more like an owl than ever.
“Attracted to the erudite gentlemen, are you?” he joked.
“Very sound reasoning! I applaud you, Miss Evans. Handsome faces and manly figures sag and degrade with time, but keen intellect and loving hearts are forever.” He paused. “The war?”
“Yes. Passchendaele. He had just been home on leave. That’s when we got engaged.”
“Ah.” He sighed heavily. “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you. I understand you ministered to our boys over here?”
“I did, in a hospital many were brought to directly from France. kaçak iddaa Still had mud in their wounds, many of them. But perhaps we can talk of that later. My dears, it’s the first Sunday of Advent! Much better to talk of our coming saviour.”
We all relaxed at that, and soon trooped to a room set up like a tiny chapel, with small padded benches and kneelers, a miniature altar to hold the cup and bread, a slim lectern holding a Bible, and even a stained-glass window depicting Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Mrs. Harding, Allison and I all covered our heads with lace veils laid out by the door, and I curtsied before sitting down. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Uncle Henny smile and Aunt Clarissa nod with approval.
As the reverend began to speak, I reflected on my loving night with Allison. Had we sinned? I reckoned so, although I didn’t feel the guilt one might have expected. Hugs and kisses on the cheek could be rationalized, but the deep kissing, the way we had caressed and licked and loved each other’s bodies — that all definitely seemed sinful. I felt the blood heat my face as I recalled the wonder of her body when we’d woken up shortly after midnight, the way her hair tickled my nose as I buried my face in her sex, that glorious taste…
The others were kneeling and I hurried to catch up, joining in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. God hadn’t done a very good job at leading me not into temptation, I thought as I repeated the words, but He had given me my daily bread, for the body and soul! I hadn’t eaten so well in a long time, nor with such kind and stimulating company.
We sat back on the benches as Uncle Henny spoke of preparing ourselves for the coming Christ child, for the renewal of hope in the midst of despair and corruption, for light to shine in the darkness. I had felt all those things — hope, joy, anticipation — since meeting Allison. Could I then truly say that God didn’t mean for Allison and me to love each other? Sighing softly, I put aside my concerns and concentrated on the rest of the excellent sermon, participating sincerely in the cherished rituals of the service.
Mrs. Harding, Allie and I doffed our veils as we left the room, and I turned to the reverend.
“Thank you for a lovely service. I enjoyed your message very much.”
“Not at all, my dear. And the message wasn’t mine — it was the Holy Spirit’s. I was merely the conduit.”
“You always say that, Uncle Henny.”
“That’s because it’s true, dear Allison. When I was a young man, I spent days researching and writing hour-long sermons, only to find inspiration from another source when I stood in the pulpit. After twenty or so years, I finally gave in and let the Spirit do the speaking. Everyone told me how much better my sermons became!”
“It’s true,” Aunt Clarissa piped up. “I remember your stodgy sermon at our wedding. We had to borrow a page from the Catholics and sit down, you went on for so long!”
“Yes, yes. I don’t think your poor mother ever forgave any of us. She was quite a stickler for decorum. Which leads us to the question of how such a creature ever gave birth to you, Claire.”
Aunt Clarissa slapped his arm lightly and I could see it was a long-standing joke between them.
“You realize she also never forgave you for calling me Claire instead of Clarissa. She never liked that nickname.”
“Oh, I know. That’s why I did it. Your mother needed to be thwarted every so often.”
They both laughed.
“It was a great day when George met you, dear Claire,” he said gently.
“It was indeed. Hard to believe he’s been gone for two years now. Even now, I keep expecting him to walk in the front door and explain his death was an elaborate joke.”
“I miss him too,” Allison said. “He was the most agreeable man I ever met.”
“Our parents placed great value on that quality. I must confess, George had it more than I.”
“John had it too — my twin brother, Allison’s father,” Aunt Clarissa said, realizing I had no idea of whom she was speaking. “Our mother failed utterly in her quest to raise us to be proper emotionless English children. He was always more serious than I, but he shared my love of laughter. I expect that’s what attracted him to Sarah. Hardly anyone enjoyed life more than your mother, dear.”
Allison looked wistful, and I took her hand and squeezed it. She smiled and squeezed mine back.
“It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Evans, but I must go. I have an eleven o’clock service at the hospital, and I mustn’t be late. Still so many soldiers there, and the lads depend on me.”
After he left, Aunt Clarissa looked at us both. “I should love to get better acquainted, Miss Evans, but I too have a commitment.” She sighed. “The war changed everything, did it not? Sunday is no longer devoted solely to prayer and family time. But I will be home for supper. Will you be joining us, Miss Evans?”
I looked at Allison. She nodded.
“I believe so, Mrs. Harding, although I will not have time to dally afterward. I must get home and ready myself for the coming kaçak bahis week.”
“Excellent!” and she sounded as though she meant it. “You seem a most interesting girl and I look forward to knowing you better. Of course, dear Allison has already spoken of you so often that I feel as though I know you rather well. But it’s always different to meet in the flesh, is it not? One gains a much better understanding that way.”
She gave me another smile and went upstairs. Allison and I looked at one another. In the distance, I heard a door close.
“Shall we return to my rooms and study for a while? We do have that examination this week.”
She spoke rather loudly, as though we were putting on a performance, so I agreed at once. We both stopped to use the water closet — all that tasty tea had caught up with me. Back in her room, she closed the door and explained that Edna, while providing excellent service, also enjoyed a good gossip. I nodded, understanding.
“So perhaps we should study quietly.” She moved toward me and took me in her arms.
“I’m sure we can manage that.” We kissed, soft and slow.
“No shouting out the answers, or anything else,” she continued, her fingers dancing on my back.
“Absolutely not,” I agreed, unbuttoning her blouse and reaching inside. She shivered.
“Remember what M. Dupont said about warming one’s hands before touching another person.”
I retracted my hands and rubbed them together, never taking my eyes off hers.
“When my hands are warm, where does my patient wish me to put them?”
“Mmm. I think you should do a thorough assessment and determine that for yourself.”
I reached into her blouse once more and flattened my hands against her back, pulling her closer to me.
“Then I should turn around so my patient retains her dignity and privacy.”
“I don’t know about that. Perhaps you should watch in case I stumble and hurt myself.”
I backed away, hardly daring to blink as she draped her blouse, then her skirt on her chair. She blushed as she took in my intense stare, then deliberately turned away to unclasp her brassiere and drop it on the chair. My breath quickened as I saw the swell of her buttocks and hips below her pink knickers. Unable to resist, I stepped forward and ran my hands over those curves, reveling in her heat and the sensation of fine silk and finer skin. She backed into me, making her enjoyment clear. My fingers crept under the silk and around to her front. I chuckled suddenly, realizing I was silently reciting names of the bones and muscles under my hands even as I caressed her.
“What?” she asked.
I told her and she laughed with me.
“I do that too! Best way to learn anatomy. Archie and I used to do that.”
Shocked, I stiffened and straightened up. She looked around and realized what I was thinking.
“Not this, silly girl! Hands and feet and arms and such.”
“Oh.” I felt a complete fool. She turned completely and embraced me, hugging away my stiffness and shame. “Help me finish?”
My hands returned to her bottom and she practically purred as I rubbed and kneaded her. I eased her pants off her hips and held her hand — “for your safety, darling” — as she stepped out of them.
Unlike my body, Allie’s did not seem to have any flat spots — she was all delightful curves and concavities. I couldn’t seem to get enough of just looking at her peaches-and-cream beauty or inhaling her intoxicating natural fragrance.
“I think your patient would feel more comfortable if her practitioner weren’t quite so bundled up. One feels vulnerable when one is the only one in the room who’s naked.”
“How insensitive of your practitioner,” I said, swiftly unclasping and untying my borrowed garments. She watched with amusement as I stepped out of my clothes, only to be confronted with my shoes. She silently handed me her buttonhook, then giggled as I grumbled my way through the buttons.
Nude at last, I flung myself on the bed. “Time for your assessment.” I patted the mattress beside me. “Please start with your face down.”
She sat at the edge of the bed and slid over to me, again catching my eye and not relinquishing it until she rolled onto her belly. I found it terribly arousing.
“In assessing a patient, we start at the feet,” and I suited action to word, crawling down to the foot of the bed and rubbing one foot, then the other. I worked my thumbs into her arches, eliciting a groan, and vigorously sawed my hands on either side of her Achilles tendon, the friction heating the skin and tissue nicely. I continued up her slender, lightly furred, legs, wishing my own hair there was so fine and blond.
“I do love your legs, Allie,” I said quietly. “Like something one might see in the British Museum, they are.”
She giggled into the quilt.
“Can you imagine this sight in the British Museum, darling? The scandal!”
Her giggles grew into laughs, and I could not help but join in.
“Perhaps they could put us in with the ancient Greeks or Romans,” I suggested. “That lot seemed to prefer naked ladies.”
Unable to concentrate on massaging her, I slid forward, draping my body alongside hers, sliding my thigh up to rest on her hamstrings and kissing her ear. We both shifted as she turned round to face me.
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