"If one more thing happens," Anne Pane told Belle, "I'll know I'm cursed."
"You're not cursed, child." the slave responded. "You're blessed."
"I was engaged at sixteen, at the height of my beauty. Then John's father got sick. I couldn't marry a man when his father was lying sick in his house. And then John's year of mourning."
"You're still at the height of your beauty, mistress. Eighteen isn't old. Just hold still while I finish your hair ... Now, look at that! And, while I never wished Massa Evans any harm, you're not marrying the heir to Twin Oaks; you're marrying the master of Twin Oaks. You'll be mistress of the finest plantation in the county tomorrow."
"Belle," Mother spoke sharply from the doorway.
"You may leave us."
"Yes, ma'am." And Belle did.
"Now," Mother said, "a few things. You'll be, as Belle said, mistress of Twin Oaks. But Mrs. Evans will still be living in her home. You'll treat her with the greatest respect."
"Yes, Mother." Anne didn't want any conflict with her mother-in-law.
"And, the wedding will be here, at Meadowlands. So will the dance and the dinner. After that, John and you will drive to your new home."
"Yes, Mother." This wasn't news; Mother was leading up to something, and Anne suspected what it was.
"The two of you will retire to your bedroom -- your shared bedroom -- and go to bed -- go to bed together. Do you know what will happen then?"
Anne had a better idea what would happen than she wanted her mother to know. "No, Mother."
"He'll make love to you. There is a part of him that will go in you between your legs. Where you bleed every month. He'll move back and forth in you. Gentlemen get very excited. He'll leave there what makes babies. Maybe it won't make a baby that time, but he'll do it on other nights."
"Yes, Mother, I've seen animals." You could hardly help seeing animals. Stallions and bulls made enough noise in their lots, and dogs mated everywhere.
"Well, ladies lie on their backs. John will know what to do. He'll have practiced on servants, though a lady doesn't admit she knows that. That's one of the two things I have to tell you."
"Well, Anne, a lady doesn't comment on the pickaninnies running around looking like John. Adults won't be his get, although they may be his father's. And a gentleman doesn't push his mistresses in his wife's face. He doesn't sleep with house slaves. But, whatever has happened, you don't tax John with it. After all, he'll be relieving you of some demands. Gentlemen can't go without. They need relief, and when their wives don't provide it -- and when, as in John's case, they aren't married yet -- servants are there. You just don't mention it to John, and he doesn't mention it to you. That's the first thing."
"The second thing is that, the first time he goes into you, it will hurt. Don't shirk your duty. Don't beg him for a delay. It will hurt tonight, but it won't hurt any less tomorrow night. And it will hurt that way only once. It isn't the worst pain you'll ever feel. Remember getting thrown from the horse?"
"Yes, Mother." She'd been thrown more than once, but Mother must mean the time she'd broken her arm. Was mother saying that tonight would hurt like that? She'd heard about the pain. Most of her friends were married by now, and some described more pain than others. None described as much pain as the broken arm.
"Well, this will hurt less. I don't mean less than the worst throw. I mean less than the mildest one. You don't stop riding because you'll get thrown sometimes. You don't refuse your husband for such a mild pain."
"Now, I'll send Belle back in. Hurry up; they'll be getting out of church in a few minutes."
She had more immediate concerns for the rest of the day. But, sitting beside John in the carriage as they were driven towards Twin Oaks, there was suddenly nothing else to think about. It would have been better if John had talked to her, but all their talk for the last month had concerned the wedding which was now over.
Once at Twin Oaks, one of the house servants led Anne and Belle up to the master bedroom. Belle unpacked one of Anne's bags and hung those clothes in the wardrobe which had previously been empty. Then she helped Anne out of the clothes she had been wearing. "And my nightshirt?" Anne asked when the last clothes were put away. Usually, Belle gave her the nightshirt as soon as she'd taken off her bloomers.
"You won't need a nightgown tonight, Ma'am."
Anne felt her face burn as she climbed into the wide bed. When Belle left, John came in with a male servant. He'd already removed his boots. She watched in horrified silence, but in curiosity, as John disrobed. She knew what the bulge in the front of his long underwear meant but John turned his back and sat on the edge of the bed to remove this last garment. He slipped into bed as naked as she was before saying, "That's all, Ab."
"Yes, Massa," the slave said. He took the lantern with him and closed the door behind him.
"Your mother talked to you?" John asked.
"Yes." Anne would have died rather than repeat that conversation.
"Good." Instead of asking for details, John leaned over and kissed her. They'd kissed before, but that had been standing up, fully clothed, out where people could see them. Now, they were alone in a bed together, nothing covering them but the sheets. John's lips left hers to kiss all over her face, light kisses, touches. When he returned to her mouth, his tongue came out to lick her lips. "Open your mouth," he said from an inch above her face. When she did, his tongue entered it. Her tongue touched it. The oddest feeling shot through her.
His hand rested on her belly, her bare skin. She tensed, but this was his right. She was his wife. While he kissed her again, he moved that hand up to her breast. Slowly, as they kissed some more, her shyness and embarrassment gave way to comfort and then pleasure.
Twice more, she was shocked. The first time was when he shifted his position and she felt something touch her leg. She realized suddenly that this was the part of John that her mother had mentioned. The second was when his hand moved from her breast to between her legs. She tensed at that and brought those legs tightly together. But, she realized, this too was his right. She relaxed.
As John's mouth moved from hers down to her breast, her excitement grew. She also relaxed. He wasn't hurrying her to the painful part. His sucking on her nipple brought a warmth which was somewhat akin to the first flushes of embarrassment but subtly different. The strokes of his hand on parts she hadn't even touched herself led her into greater and greater warmth.
When John stopped sucking on her nipple, she was disappointed, even though it was getting a little sore at that point. Then he leaned over to kiss her left breast. Suction on that nipple felt as good, and then it felt even better. She found herself clutching his head against that breast as her excitement grew.
For some reason, lying down after no exertion at all, she found herself panting. Then, the warmth spreading from his hand and mouth became fire. She convulsed. How long that fire burned through her, she couldn't tell.
Then John's hand and mouth were incredibly irritating. The hands which had been clutching his head to her breast shoved him off. A moment later, she was terribly embarrassed; he was her husband and had that right. Before she could apologize, though, John was kissing her forehead. "Dear girl," he said. "I love you."
A moment later, he was climbing over her. He got between her legs, and his hand went back to her most private parts. "Bend your knees a little more," he said. She felt something resting where the rag rested during her periods. It wasn't his hand; he'd brought his hand up beside her shoulder. It was warm and, somehow, moist. "All right?" he asked.
It was far from all right. This was the part that was going to hurt. And she'd still not caught her breath. Still, it was going to happen. She knew that; her mother had known that; everybody seemed to know that. She nodded. "Fast is better," he said.
She felt pressure there, then a brief pain. "Ow," she said softly. His groin was pressed against hers and she felt filled in a place where she had never felt anything before.
"I'm sorry to have hurt you." He didn't look sorry, happy if anything. "All right?" he asked again. The pain, which hadn't been all that much -- mother was right, it was less than hitting the ground in a fall from a horse -- was rapidly receding.
When she didn't answer, he bent down to kiss her cheek. Then he ...