Views: 1170 Created: 2017.03.24 Updated: 2017.03.24

Arabella and the rod by stephen rawlings

PROLOGUE

The two young women shared the sunlit glade, their horses quietly cropping the grass as the girls took their seat on a mossy bank, dry and soft now in the Midsummer warmth. The long skirts of their riding habits just failed to over the tips of their elegant leather boots, while the frogged silk jackets served to emphasise rather than conceal their narrow waists and swelling breasts, their natural curves thrown into even greater prominence by the new fashion for tight lacing and boned corsetry that had displaced the loose exuberance of the Directoire. Gone were the high waisted muslin gowns of the Regency and females of all classes now submitted their bodies to the bondage of whalebone stitched so tightly, one strip beside another, that they formed a solid carapace. This time around, unlike the straight silhouette of the seventeen-nineties, the satin and whalebone armour flared over the hips from wasp waists and no longer compressed the breasts, but carried them roundly in half cups high on her chest.

Though they affected the same style of dress, as befitted young ladies of wealth and fashion, they made a complementary rather than a matched pair, one blonde, soft featured and demure, the other taller, crowned by a mass of rich auburn hair above her unmistakably aristocratic features which habitually wore a look of eagerness and animation. She spoke. "Only a week now, Mary, and you'll be spreading your legs in your marriage bed. Still, Arthur's a good fellow and will be gentle with you which will be as well, seeing that you'll be going to him virgin. I wish you both great happiness and I dare say you'll find it together but the married state is not for me. I have so much I want to taste and touch yet."

"Sometimes, dearest Arabella, you remind me of a man." Her tall companion turned a look of mock surprise upon her fair friend.

"Well, then, Mary mine, it must be men's bodies that you lack knowledge of, for you're certainly very familiar with mine. I can assure you I'm all woman, and not in the least like the male sex."

"Don't twit me so. You know perfectly well that I admire your lovely body for just that femininity. I'm talking about your recklessness and yearning for adventure. You're just like that brother of yours." She smiled fondly, betraying perhaps a certain interest in the young man in question. "He's always into some devilment or other and so are you. He'd make a wager on anything, offer to fight any comers with fists, sword or pistol for the sheer hell of it, and be off to cross a desert or climb a mountain or any other challenge that came his way. If it were not for the fact that Ladies simply do not do such things, I believe you would be off on the same madcap adventure at the drop of a hat. Indeed, I cannot understand why you submit so readily to the tyranny of the corset. I thought you, of all women, would rebel."

"By no means. My stays give me a feeling of restraint and reassurance without which I shudder to think of what I might do. Mama has often spoken of the libertine effect of the loose gowns she wore in Prinny's days, when more than laces were loosened, she tells me. In such attire, I dare not think of what follies I might be capable, but the firm hold of my corset is always there to quell my thrusting nature. As to my adventurous nature, why there, sweet Mary, you may have made a point." "And then," her voice acquiring a more serious tone, she continued, "I do indeed hanker for excitement, and envy the men, that they can indulge their adventurous impulses. I would like to give and receive challenges, and pit my resolve and resources against others."

Mary looked shocked. "But that would be so unladylike! Society would be scandalised, and how would you find a husband if you behaved like that?"

"Oh, Pooh to society" Arabella replied, with a toss of her chestnut mane. "I don't give a fig for their opinion and as to husbands, I'd rather do without one if I can't find a man who wants me as I am." "But do you not hanker for a man's love?"

Arabella smiled. "Love. What's that? I have not met it yet. I have met lust, though, and I recognise that in myself as well as in men, and have had great joy of it. Perhaps I'll recognise love too, when it comes along but that is yet to be."

Once more shock registered on her companion's face. Could it be that it was tinged with delicious excitement?

"Arabella! You can't mean that you have let men have their way with you! How could you endure it, and what if you should get a child? You would be ruined."

"Silly goose! It is nothing to be endured." she laughed. "Tis the greatest sport if the man has any imagination or the woman any sense. As to avoiding a swollen belly, there are ways!"

"How can that be? Everyone knows that if you let a man discharge inside your womb you'll like as not bear a child nine months later." Her friend regarded her with a considering look. "I really cannot decide if I should educate you in these ways or not. You are such an innocent, Mary, that I wonder if I should not leave you so, to marry still a virgin and raise your brood happily ever after. Such a life is not for me, or at any rate, not until I've had my fill of men and adventures." She shrugged. "On the other hand, I can't see you running after men, even if you did not fear pregnancy, and perhaps when you are married you'd welcome the means to slow the stream of brats."

"Yes, please tell." Mary pleaded. "I do so want children when I marry but I wouldn't like to become so tired and broken down as some I've seen. My cousin Louise is only a few years older than I, but could be my mother, so worn is she by five babies in as many years."

"Why then, it's simple. Apart from offering your lover your rear opening, which many delight in, you use a slip of sponge. My old nurse came from Sicily, where my mother found her when Father was at the Consulate in Palermo. Women of the Mediterranean have used the trick since Homer's time. You soak the sponge in olive oil and slide it up your love tunnel until it covers the entrance to your womb, and all will be well."

"So that's how it's done." the fair girl smiled. "No wonder you dare so much."

The chestnut tresses tossed again.

"Oh, it's not just games with the men I seek. I look for other challenges, other trials, other dangers even. I have no use for dice or cards for money, that means nothing to me, but I would hazard myself, to test my strength and endurance and find their limits, to gamble with my body as the counter."

"Arabella dearest, don't say such things. You quite frighten me" and then her curiosity winning the battle with her fear, as is usually the way with women, "and how can you test yourself so, and without being ruined by scandal?"

"Well, as to scandal, I can be as discreet as the next woman, better than most of our acquaintances, I dare swear, but in any case, why should I care? I shall be twenty-five tomorrow and come into the inheritance my Grandmother left me." she smiled contentedly. "I cannot touch the estate, the trustees will see to that, and therein lies my security, but the income is large and mine to do with as I please, so you see, I can snap my fingers at them all: men, scandal-cats and Society, and seek out excitement where I please."

"And what form will that excitement take?" asked Mary, round-eyed. "Why, that we shall have to see." said Arabella thoughtfully, sitting up and putting her hands behind her neck. The movement lifted her firm breasts, already upthrust by the tight corset with its lace-edged cups. She tilted back her head, exposing her long white neck and continued thoughtfully, as if to the sky.

"I think I have missed something in my life to date. It's been very happy in many ways, and I've lacked for nothing but I've not been extended either. I don't know what it is to suffer pain and learn to bear it. I haven't faced danger or discomfort. I think I will use my coming independence to explore these things and my inner self. How or where I don't know, but I shall be constantly on the watch and seize the moment when it comes." Her mood changed abruptly. "Enough of this daydreaming." Springing up, she grasped Mary's hand and hauled the slight blonde girl to her feet. "Fetch your horse. We are due at Caston House in half an hour and we mustn't keep Aunt Julia waiting for her tea."

Two minutes later, tall red head and small blonde departed and the glade fell still again.