One fine Yorkshire afternoon, the 'eligible' Mr William Postlethwaite and I took a gentle walk across the moor towards the notorious Merripath House. The views were as exceptional as ever and the landscape's bleak, rolling hills inspired my imagination far more than the character of my escort. I had considered him a fair enough gentleman on first acquaintance, yet on subsequent occasions, he came across as a miserable fellow with an altogether cold personality.
Not that I chanced upon William Postlethwaite's tiresome company very often, but when I did, he would engage me with awful monologues centered almost entirely upon himself. I thought him a braggart who would not flatter, nor listen and least of all dance. Even a simple contredanse seemed beyond him, for which he proffered the ridiculous reason of my diminutive stature - so I danced with my darling Hazel because I love her and she too is little, but our littleness never spoiled our fun, nor other people's and only Postlethwaite's countenance soured.
Hence my agreement to tolerate further episodes of such horrible company only transpired following a forthright discussion with my dear father, who thought I should accept an unsolicited offer from Postlethwaite to escort me as and when.
"But, father," I said, "the man has neither charm nor grace."
"Is that so, Steffanie?" He said.
"Yes, father. I dislike him, I could never... "
"Ay up, lass, I'll not have you lay with anyone you're not smitten with."
"Thank you, father."
"But make a pretence, lass, for your own sake."
Dear, dear father, he knew perfectly well I had no real interest in young gentlemen, least of all the cold, calculating Mr Postlethwaite, for whom prudence would require me to feign at least some enthusiasm for marriage, only to be rid of him at the earliest opportunity. Father's kind words confirmed his tolerance of my true nature would continue, regardless of the heartfelt concerns he held for my future. I could never thank him enough for his thoughtful counsel, he deserved nothing less than my absolute respect.
"Yes, father," I said, "thank you, father. For my own sake then - and Hazel's?"
"By 'eck," he said, "will you two ever set your hearts on marriage?"
"Only to each other, father."
"Be off with you," he said, "and be sure to look your best for Postlethwaite."
Father smiled and sighed, a response that reflected the paradox of our time, one that saw remarkable progress walking hand in hand with oppression. England had walloped the French at Trafalgar, yet feared revolution at home, a potential shift of power our ruling aristocracy determined to prevent, no matter how great the cost to liberty and justice.
As young women, Hazel and I had no power, but we were free enough to cast off our corsets in favour of the unrestrained fashions inspired by the Romantics. We delighted in more natural expressions of ourselves, we truly believed that something as simple as delicate, flowing dresses might light the path to equality for women - it did, the path led to her bed.
What could possibly be more fairly balanced than two petite girls celebrating the beauty of their nakedness together? The law did not demand anything of us in Hazel's bed, no heartless husbands could rule over us, we knew only free love, a secret love that grew ever more passionate. Until one day -
"Do try to show a little more discretion, girls," said Hazel's father. "Your fondness for one another has become quite vociferous recently."
"Yes, father," said Hazel. "Sorry, father."
We two girls blushed so profoundly, we felt as if our faces were on fire, but the kindhearted man said nothing more on the subject, except to my own father. We could only imagine the course of such a conversation, we certainly feared its outcome. Fortunately, and hopefully like most egalitarians would have done, the two men chose to quietly support our sapphic relationship on a point of principle - the autonomy of love.
Our fathers' muted stance would trouble neither church nor state, after all, we were only young women, what harm could we do when our future prospects were so inevitably destined to be dependent upon marriage? We simply did not count, but to more than whisper our love would invite ridicule to challenge us, an action that might undermine our reputations and ruin us forever. Postlethwaite posed such a threat, and so the pretence of my interest in marriage began, I reluctantly took the warm Yorkshire air with the venomous creature after accepting his first (and last) invitation to do so.
I looked my astonishing best for the occasion, my soft muslin dress captured the spirit of Romanticism perfectly, freely styled to cascade to the floor, and neatly pleated to cup my bosom with delicate wisps of sensual fabric. A wonderful dress that felt delightful to wear, its ivory colour complemented my complexion and extolled the beauty of my pale white breasts - especially my breasts, where all eyes would invariably rest when beholding such a classical display of ripe femininity.
I had done my father proud, my wild bob of blonde hair showed a girl with spirit, while my dress proved me womanly enough to satisfy a demanding marriage. Except Mr Postlethwaite seemed anything but proud when I presented myself to him, he extended only the most perfunctory of greetings and looked shocked by my uninhibited portrayal of loveliness. I felt confident I had the better of him already, until he countered with a caustic remark upon the weather and the necessity to at least cover myself with the shade of a parasol.
A dainty parasol lay close to hand, rather too dainty in Postlethwaite's opinion, another criticism levelled by a man who held no sympathies whatsoever for my ethereal values, yet he could only bluster or ridicule in argument against them. I felt bullied before our walk had barely begun, it would certainly seem an especially long one and nothing like walking with my dearest Hazel, but then, she and I enjoyed a very different relationship to the one Postlethwaite had in mind.
"It is clear to me, Steffanie," he said, "that you need to be taken in hand."
"If it pleases you to say so, sir."
"Indeed it does, Steffanie, you will thank me for it, I promise you."
Oh my Lord, his words filled me with dread. For what harm had I done, except be an imp of a girl in a beautiful dress? Yet he would prefer to censor my appearance and have my spirit crushed. He knew nothing of love, he sought merely to own a woman as his wife and use her to procreate not cherish, to make an heir and a spare as they say.
A fear of William Postlethwaite began to take hold of me, the man was stubborn, a coward who spoke of Trafalgar as if he had bravely faced Napoleon's fleet there. He despised the French, he despised the common English even more and saw treason in every corner of the realm. Liberty and equality were dangerous words to his ears, he supported even the most oppressive laws and believed all calls for social justice should receive nowt softer than an iron fist.
"Fear and discipline, Steffanie, is all that is proven to work."
More than fear, I felt terrified and no longer cared about appearances, I wanted rid of Postlethwaite before our walk was done, but how? The moor no longer offered inspiration - until the notorious Merripath House came into view, the very antithesis of Postlethwaite's cold justice. His iron fist could break bones but could never break love, not an honest love, and many people knew that the bravest, most honest love of all lived within the fine walls of Merripath House.
If Merripath's two spouses could survive being true to the whole world, then surely I could survive just one man's cruel cowardice, defeat him, and be rid of him forever? I believe Merripath thought so, I believe its windows watched over me as I turned to my twisted admirer and spoke the finest, most inspired words to ever have entered my head.
"My dear, William," I said, "may I ask you something?"
"Please do, Steffanie," he said, "ask me anything you wish."
"Do you know why Merripath House is also known as Cucumber Hall?"
"Is it?" he said. "Then perhaps the owner is known to cultivate cucumbers."
"Indeed, William, and 'appen she shoves 'em up her wife's muff."
"I beg your pardon."
"Are you hard of hearing, man? 'am sayin' she humps her horny missus with 'em."
"Good grief, woman, you need a priest, not a husband."
"A priest ain't sowrin' muff with muff, nay spunky seed gets spilled."
"Silence, silence, the devil has your tongue."
Thank God for that, being possessed and unmarried seemed a blessing in the predicament I faced. My spontaneous outburst appeared to have worked, I sensed victory, only William Postlethwaite would not have it. He struck the air with rage and damned me as a Jezebel for wantonly teasing any men and all men with my near naked breasts. He denounced me as a tart, a coarse trollop fit only for the nugging shop and working men's pennies.
"Pig," I said, determined to finish him.
Oh dear, when Postlethwaite came upon me, I feared my maiden flower would be taken by force, my bold conduct had enraged him all the more and mere words were no longer a defence. I lost my parasol first, and the same pillaging hands that knocked it to the ground, next pulled down upon my dress, until not a single wisp of fabric covered my bare bosom.
"There," he said, "you make a better whore than lady."
"You have shamed yourself, not I," I said.
"A shilling to have you," he said.
"You disgust me," I said.
"Then I shall have you for free, before every other man does."
"Never." I cried, and raised my right fist in defiance.
"Marianne, Marianne," my voice screamed out, I refused to be disgraced and would fight with the selfsame heart that the bare breasted lady for liberty possessed - Marianne, the French Marianne, and I did not care a hoot if my battle cry sounded like treason. Right is right, be you English or French and I hurled myself at Postlethwaite with all the fury of a banshee.
"God damn you," he said, and threw me to the ground, but not before my flashing nails had marked him as a scoundrel who would abuse a small woman.
"You belong in the madhouse," he said, "I bid you good riddance."
Thus Mr William Postlethwaite abandoned me on the moor, he ran from the field with a hand to his face thinking heaven knows what. I had no need to care, I had won my Tralgalgar, only my HMS Victory wouldn't be sailing anywhere - except to Hazel's house. "Muff with muff," how she made me laugh with her vulgar vernacular.
I put my dress back together, curtseyed to Merripath House, picked up my parasol and strolled off the moor to the sound of two wagtails singing their praises to love. How I adore the moor, but never so much as my lovely Hazel.
Perhaps there should be a madhouse dedicated to lovers? If so, I would surely commit mine, for when I reached her door, she greeted me with her red hair down, and became as naked as Eve the moment she had dragged me to her room. Thereupon, all heartache and fears for her beloved were released in shower after shower of kisses, tears, and questions.
"Did he frighten you?"
"Did he bully you?"
"Did he hurt you?"
"You said what?"
"To have you?"
"Oh, my sweet Steffanie, show me he didn't hurt your breasts."
Sniffles, suckles and smiles, nuzzling my naked breasts calmed her down, she calmly led me to her bed, stripped me and calmed herself even more with her pretty, little head between my legs.
"I will be your fusty luggs," she said.
"I am the whore, my darling, Postlethwaite said so."
"Then we will both be fusty luggs," she said.
Mmm, two little whores in bed. Perhaps Postlethwaite was right all along, and if I made a better whore than lady, then my dear Hazel most certainly did. No lady would ever take such intimate liberties with her tongue, never so deep, nor for so long, and never so bawdy that her father might have heard the autonomy of our love running wild and free.
~ Bliss ~
"Please stay down on me awhile, my love."
"With pleasure," she said.
"I feel as fine as five pence with you there."
"Me too, I like being down by your muff."
She made me giggle with her affectionate familiarity. Are many women both whore and lady for their lovers? I expect so, the contrast seems only too natural and perhaps our way of liberating the complexity of love, instead of stumbling around trying to control or deny it.
"By the way," said my lady, "who told you Merripath House is known as Cucumber Hall?"
"No one," I said, "I made it up to vex Postlethwaite."
"Inspired," she said, "do you think we should try a cucumber?"
"You would take my maiden flower with a vegetable?"
"You can take mine," said my fusty luggs.
Inspired indeed, inspired by the power of the open and honest love within Merripath House. Perhaps one day muff with muff will - I know not what, but I do know the Lady of Merripath will create a legacy too powerful to deny.
God bless you, your Ladyship.
For always and forever, our very own Marianne.
Inspired by Anne Lister