WARNING: Absolutely definitely not for young eyes.
Charlotte tries to interpret letters from Bran with interesting results.
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London – 1838
Bran was three days late, though his letters gave no reason why there was a false cheer to them.
‘People might start thinking you’re pining, Miss,’ Mrs Stapleton said, bustling around the library under the guise of once again assessing the maid’s dusting.
It broke my contemplation of the ceiling, I’d been thinking what to do about Bran’s lateness.
‘Pining?’ I asked, more to show that I was listening than because I was actually interested, but didn’t make any effort to move from my position lying on the chaise lounge with Bran’s latest letter resting on my chest.
‘For Mr O’Conner, Miss,’ she added, without looking at me.
I sighed. ‘I’m bored. What do fashionable ladies do all day?’
‘I wouldn’t rightly know, Miss.’ There was something about the way she said the word that made it sound like an insult. Perhaps in her mind it was, I was an unmarried woman after all. She was at the puritan end of Protestantism, and Lord knew Protestants had funny ideas.
I wondered if would tell Bran everything I’d been doing while he was away. Everything she knew about anyway, she didn’t know about Griffin, I wasn’t a fool. No doubt she’d use it against me if she could. There were plenty of other things she knew that she could tell him; like how little I slept and when I did it was on the floor with Bran’s pillow under my head. Of course, she couldn’t have told him why.
Perhaps, I thought, it could be useful if she told him, it might sound like I had been pining and make him feel wanted but it wasn’t really that. Without Bran to distract me the nightmares came more often, memories I wished I didn’t remember. I didn’t much torment myself over this, the past was unalterable after all, but it didn’t make for a goodnight’s sleep. Such was the clarity of my memories I often woke up feeling the fear as if I was in that moment.
When Bran was there and I snuggled up to him the way he liked and was tired out by sex my nightmares troubled me very little. I remembered other things instead, or sometimes nothing at all.
If something was going to trouble me then it might be the ease with which Bran wrote things he couldn’t seem to say. I was no expert, and though he didn’t say the words, for all intents and purposes he seemed to be sending me love letters. I’d never had love letters before, partly because most men couldn’t write but mostly because I wouldn’t have been considered worth the effort.
I lifted the letter and re-read it again. Once I got passed the false cheer where he tried to hide that something had gone wrong he told me nice things he would never have said. How he missed me; the smell of my hair which was wild berries and woodland, the way I would tease him awake caressing my finger down his nose, or the touch of my lips when I kissed the scars on his back.
In one letter he even talked about sex, though not in so many words but I could read the words in-between. I wondered what had made him write that letter, it was so out of character. I’d reread that letter so many times the folds were as brittle as dry leaves but I couldn’t read the words between the words between.
Still, I couldn’t imagine any other man I knew getting poetical about getting ridden by a woman. And I had to wonder how long it had taken him to come up with all his euphemistic ways of saying he loved the way I would grip his shoulders and dig my nails into his skin, the way I would kiss him in the act, the way I would whisper that I wanted him.
There was one I couldn’t quite work out; either he was talking about kissing or getting metaphorical about being inside me, or both. I supposed it was all much the same in the end because it was so unusual for him to talk about that about either. The man was a puzzle.
To begin with my letters were more prosaic; what I’d been doing that day, with some edits, gossip I’d heard, amusing things I’d seen. While I could write I’d never actually written a letter before and other than the wealthy ladies I’d met at parties the only other woman I knew who could write was Mrs Stapleton. I could hardly ask her how to write a letter to a lover, especially when that lover was her employer. Although it would be funny, but for the sake of harmony it was best not to antagonise the dragon.
Within a week I was bored and running out of things to say so instead I wrote him things that I knew would make him blush, and I wasn’t metaphorical about it either. I liked the idea that he might lie awake at night rereading my letters and desperate for a spend I wasn’t there to give.
Somehow I doubted that he imagined I reread his letters or that I would enjoy them. There weren’t many men who would refer to my vagina as ‘that happy place’, or maybe he meant orgasm, then again he might mean kissing and cuddling afterward, reading between the words was an inexact science.
‘What are you smiling about, Miss?’ Mrs Stapleton asked as if she was merely asking directions.
‘Nothing,’ I replied, folded the letter and tucked it into my bodice.
‘Harlot,’ she muttered and straightened a heap of books on the central table but it was a lost cause. The table was covered in wonky piles of books where Bran had picked them up, read what he needed then simply put them down to be sorted out at a later time or because he might need them again.
‘Will you be going out tonight, Miss?’ she asked, somehow managing to soak her words with implications about what I did when I went out at night.
‘I don’t think so,’ I said.
I had thought it would look very good if Bran came home around the time he was expected to find me waiting for him as I promised but I hadn’t anticipated him being so many days late. As it was the first time we’d spent so long apart I had expected him to arrive home promptly, perhaps even early, Lateness was not usually in his nature. It would be a pity if he didn’t make it home that day, I was wearing the dark blue silk dress that he liked, he thought it complimented my red hair and pale skin, or so he said when they were fitting it. I suspected it also had something to do with the way my fashionable corset shoved my cleavage right up, making it look more impressive that it was, and the dress neck scooped to show off the swell, I doubted he’d admit that, even poetically.
Still, waiting for Bran to come home was a hunt, a different sort to chasing Griffin, but a hunt all the same. I could be patient.
I sighed. Patience was dull though.
‘Has Mr O’Connor told you when he will be back, Miss?’ Mrs Stapleton said, as if she’d read my mind, which was impossible.
‘No,’ I replied and sat up carefully, the corset might make my breasts look good but I didn’t want to know what it was doing to my insides. I much preferred my everyday corset which held everything in place without trying to crush me. I supposed if I wore my fashionable corset more often I would get used to it, but then fashionable ladies probably didn’t have the muscle that I did.
‘I worry about him when he’s away,’ Mrs Stapleton added when I didn’t say anything else.
Quite what she expected me to do about it I wasn’t sure.
Then an idea illuminated in my mind like a candle in the dark. I didn’t need to write a long letter just one phrase: When will you be home?
I got to my feet and hurried out of the library.
In my wake I heard Mrs Stapleton say, ‘I thought the girl would never get there.’
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