The Shriving of Miss Esme Stamp...
The Shriving of Miss Esme Stamp... Serialized by Patrick George Callaghan... Part Seven
A yellow-morning glow pushed itself down in a wave upon the fine shops of The Queensway. Dark awnings gave recalculated shade to unsuspecting shoppers and guppied women pulled themselves open in a display of early March-hare madness. Delicate women from the illustrious villas, with quaint powdered faces and pampered poodles, fussed over facial creases with quick courtly startle.
She had looked at the photographs in the primitiveness of the upstairs studio. Toby sat intent on a black worn sofa that had produced itself untidily from the middle of the room. He said nothing, but watched her intently with vivid green eyes. Mother had said she distrusted green eyes. He watched her hidebound. Watched her with Charles; almost resentful, as though she might be an affliction upon him in some way. Something she was his sure about – those green eyes entered her mind instinctively. They watched her turn each page of the picture album, razoring her thoughts, moving her further from the images. Images of her, taken on the evening of the beauty contest. A glance at him showed an observing face, full of study. Full of simplicity. Perhaps even love. Then it was gone; restored to an odd smile. But in its moment; she wanted to offer him a young vitality, and yet she felt chilled a little.
In the sunlight she felt better. Toby had made her feel uncomfortable. Why? - Perhaps it did not matter. On the hard whiteness of the pavement – it did not matter. In the wonderful array of shops she bought very little; just a pretty blue-ribboned straw hat; because Charles insisted that he paid for all, and she was certain it would be imprudent of her to say she wanted this and wanted that, although her mother had given her ten pounds in the event she became orphaned in London. Her mind strayed. Focused on the intrusion of Toby Westlake. He had unsettled her. That had been his intention. She was sure of it. To spoilt her day with Charles.
Somehow, he had frightened her in a way she did not understand, and by lunchtime, the early morning sun had given way to deep black thunderous clouds.
They had lunch at The Kings Head’ Ate fully the Larks pie and drank more of the red wine than they should have done. When the black clouds began to worry a rumble they darted looks at each other with a certain uneasiness.
‘Let’s walk in the park,’ announced Charles. ‘I love the rain.’
‘But we’ll get soaked.’ She smiled, half wanting the dare, peering at the sudden deviation in his eyes.
‘What’s being wet, besides it may not?’
‘May not rain…or we may not get wet?’
He laughed; paid the bill, and they walked briskly the ten minutes it took to reach the round pond of Kensington Gardens. Esme found an empty bench seat and wet a finger removing a thread of stray cotton from her green vernal jacket. It had not rained.
‘Mother used to be heaps of fun,’ she said composedly, ‘but changed when father died.’ Simple sadness entered her face. ‘She drinks too much; and gets over-clucky with me.’ Her eyes watched a spreading duck. ‘She wants me to marry one of her rich friends…eventually.’ Why did she say that! She knew it was a silly thing to say to him.
Charles rubbed his mouth and stared back thoughtfully at an intrigued gorping duck. ‘What…just anyone? Long as he’s got money!’ he was grinning teasingly.
‘You’re laughing at me!’ Indignation rushed to her head.
‘Look Esme,’ he said in a businesslike way. ‘you can be, or do want you want. You must understand that. You don’t have to conform to your mother’s ideas about you. Decide for yourself what you want to be. My god, we aren’t living in the dark ages anymore. For heaven sake; you are allowed to think for yourself you know!’
‘I know that! Besides, mother said you would behave like a Bohemian!’
‘What?’ he looked puzzled then cooled himself. ‘Oh’ he added.
Her mouth formed a primitive grin. ‘It’s alright. Mother is always theatrical when she wants her own way.’ A reminiscence seeped into her head. ‘Why the dark ages?’
‘…Don’t know; it just came to mind. Perhaps it was the thought of those men locking up their womenfolk before they went off to fight in the wars.’
‘You’re silly,’ she whispered with affection.
‘Its beautiful here.’ her eyes closed over the wide round duck-plugged pond, and searched the waving trees beyond, which hid the mystic elegance of Kensington Palace.
‘You could stay this evening?’ he said quietly.
Her head turned to him. There was a trembling down of her feeling. His deep russet eyes were looking at her. An hour had bestowed itself upon her thoughts.
‘I think Toby is rather sweet.’ she said recklessly. The mound of dryness in her throat consumed. ‘I think he rather likes me,’ she added. She swallowed again to avoid its resurrection.
It was late afternoon when they climbed the stairs that indebted them to the unimportant rooms resting on the top floor. Toby had gone when Charles turned the lock of the shop door and wisely lifted the telephone from its cradle.
She stood before him in silent hesitation; in the flickering yellow light of the warming coals of a freshly laid fire. She had freshened herself in the tiny dim lit bathroom and slipped into his pale blue dressing gown; the touch of its coolness on her naked skin strangely excited her. Wordlessly he pulled her close to him. The gown fell quiet and limp to the floor. She pressed the beauty of her young breasts into his body. He kissed those ripe breasts so tenderly, and suckled her nipples for an eternity.
He lifted her to the large double bed below the window of russet curtains that hung with majestic dust crowded grandeur. His clothes heap-thrown to a distant corner. She whimpered a little when his nakedness touched the sinews of her body and his hands electrified her flesh. He aroused her soul; tempering her emotion.
She closed her eyes to the darkness of the room and the eroticism of the man. How different it was to the lust of the beast!
Her spirit soared above the slate roofed houses. Towards the distant Thames with its swirling beating heart, its cleansing cooling waters. How petty her fears had been. She felt exalted. She was alive.
Her embraces fired an inner beauty. She felt the dignity of womanhood. She no longer stood alone in bewildered existence. She drenched her soul in rapturous crimson warmth. He caressed her soft thighs with single tenderness. She was the beauty of his bed. She closed her eyes to dark shadows that clung to corners… to flickering images that danced against the ceiling; born of the licks from thick black coals. Outside; the mumble of a passing motor car faded in the evening light. She felt safe in his world. Secure in his tenderness.
Her exited body robbed him of no satisfaction and his consummation of her was complete and total. She closed her eyes and fell to a half sleep. Mother seemed only like a passing uncertain memory. She bathed in the richness of fulfilled pleasure. Somehow she felt released from the world of common behaviour. She did not care to interest herself in those menacing eyes and dictatorial speeches. She lay in slack exhaustion; accessibly bedraggled; her spirit flooded with delicate radiance.
At half past eight she sat by the partly drawn curtained window whilst Charles was dressing and watched figures far below make their way to the entrance of The Kings Head and disappear into the noisy golden gloom that sprang from its interior. Cold grey dusk trickled across the curves of her nakedness. The soft hue of her firm young skin echoed from the dawn of time. Her blood pulsed and raged. She was exalted with love. She pulled on underclothes with steady, almost reluctant hands, and then suddenly remembered her carelessness and the inquiry that would follow. He caressed her half-hid body once more, kissing the sweetness of her lips, and her body welled again with the rush of fluid passion. Their souls swallowed one-another in folds of delicate praise. They were lifted beyond the astral plain to a world of exacting awareness.
They said nothing on the return to Primrose Hill. The purchase Esme had made sat beside her on the front seat, and now and then, their hands touched almost secretively. It gave her reassurance. She knew he would be there and rally in her defence. She knew too…that she would leave again with him if the burden became intolerable. Strumpet’ and harlot’ were not the names she wanted to own! Charles must be presented in that brilliant, unchanging light, that surged up through every vein in her body.
She wanted to share him with the world; and she wanted to share him with no-one.
But the confines of respectable behaviour had no scope for the pleas of the innocent kind where those costly wheels rested beside that worthy villa. There was to be no inquest. No post-mortem. No picking over the bones that evening! There would be no judge. No jury. No self-proclaimed innocence. Emily had been left awake with instructions: Esme; when she returned home; should be sent to her room without her supper and that her mother had gone to bed in a state of understandable upset because of her unforgivable lateness and bad manners. However, she was to be informed of her arrival whatever the hour.