With many, many apologies to Dr. Johnson.
Despite her best efforts, Elizabeth had turned out to be a bad wife after all. She really put her heart and soul into it, spending every moment of the day either cooking or cleaning, always presenting Richard with a picturesque household. But there was one thing she had not given him, and that was a child. At first it had been simply a quirk of fate, but then as time went on her failure to conceive became more and more apparent. Richard wanted a son to continue the family line and a daughter to marry off and move themselves further up the social scale, and Elizabeth had provided him with neither.
Richard began to sulk around the manor, sitting usually in his study reading some dour poet, smoking a pipe. When Elizabeth went up and tried to talk to him, he would brush her off and go out to the lounge. They hadn't made love in weeks. He had even begun to go down to the village and drink with the commoners, returning red-faced and heavy-footed, cursing at her under his breath before falling onto the bed as inert as a sack of potatoes. He had the general aura of a man betrayed.
When Elizabeth had her friend Mary over for tea she broached the subject with as much subtlety as she could muster. Mary just laughed. "Well, the way I see it he's got no right to be so sulky, and you should bend him over and spank him for acting that way. Just because he wants a child doesn't mean he has to act like one."
Elizabeth sipped her tea while contemplating a response. Mary always amazed her. She was so polite and demure around men, but once they were gone she was fiery and opinionated, usually getting so wrapped up in a conversation she would lean forward and jerk her hands around passionately until she inevitably knocked over some knicknack or piece of china. More than that, she was beautiful – long flowing straw-coloured locks, a bust that looked like it was always about to break her dresses, golden skin that never seemed to have a blemish. Sometimes, in her darker moods, Elizabeth wished she was Mary.
"Do you know if there's anything I can do to, er, aid in conception?" Elizabeth found herself chewing her lip. The conversation was somewhere in the vicinity of sex, that great unspeakable thing, and she worried that it was inappropriate even to venture within sight of the subject.
Mary shrugged. "I'm not a doctor. It's probably not even your fault. It seems to me that the trouble could just as easily be with the body of Mr. Alexander, correct?"
Elizabeth flushed. "Don't say such a thing. There must be something I can do..."
Mary got up and walked behind her friend, currently sitting on one of the stiff red chairs that seemed to decorate every parlour recently. She looked over Elizabeth's body like a butcher would look over a cow before naming a price. Abruptly she reached around and cupped Elizabeth's breasts, pinching them between her fingers. Elizabeth let out a little whinny. She had no idea what to do in this situation.
"No, you look like you're in fine breeding shape," said Mary. "It must be a problem with Richard. How frequently are you two intimate?"
Elizabeth had no response. Her cheeks felt so warm she was sure they were about to burst into flames.
"Oh come on, you can tell me. We're friends, aren't we?" Elizabeth had no idea how Mary could be so brazen. Here she was, talking about the most sacred and secret part of a marriage as though it was a question of what she had for breakfast.
"I ... well, I ... we are friends, of course, but even so..." Mary just stared at her, apparently content to sit there in silence until she received an answer. "I'll just say that I have, um, not been remiss in my wifely duties and the two of us have been very ... marital.
"I see," said Mary. "Well, in that case there may be nothing you can do. Just keep trying and keep praying, I suppose. If it is meant to be, the Lord will find a way."
Elizabeth was somehow not terribly comforted. "Yes, of course. Well, I don't mean to shoo you out, but I simply must begin work on dinner."
"I never understand your insistence on doing all the work around here yourself. Surely a servant or two..."
Just as Elizabeth's flush was beginning to go down, it returned now hotter than ever. Why did Mary have to drop these little references, every once in a while, to the gap between them? Couldn't she simply admit that Richard and Elizabeth were doing well for themselves, even if they didn't quite have the lavish, old money lifestyle that Mary and her family did? But Elizabeth strangled her anger and buried it far beneath the surface. "But it would be such a waste for just two people. Perhaps a governess when we start having children, but for now, we're doing just fine. Besides which, a little work helps to keep a person honest."
Mary got up and shrugged, a wave travelling down her hair. "I've never subscribed to those ideas myself. I'm a dedicated hedonist – as little work and as much pleasure as possible."
Elizabeth felt like responding that little work and much pleasure was not possible for very many people, but once again held her tongue, wondering at whether the Devil was trying to speak through her today. She got up, smoothed out her skirts and escorted her friend to the door.
"That does remind me," said Mary. "I'd like to invite you to a society that I'm a part of."
Mary pressed a small card into Elizabeth's hand. On the card read "Ladies' Society for Leisure and Friendship" and listed a biweekly meeting time and a location in London. "Don't worry, we aren't one of those pious charitable societies that always bother you for money. It's just a group of women getting together to socialize and let our hair down without the men around to bother us."
Elizabeth looked at the card and frowned. "I'm not sure ... London is so far away."
"Oh, posh." Mary waved her gloved hand dismissively. "I simply won't excuse you not coming to our next meeting. It's bad for you to be cooped up in this little manor all the time."
"It's not that little."
"No, no, I didn't mean to imply that. Well, thank you for having me, and a good day."
Elizabeth watched Mary's carriage leave. She never had any idea what that woman was thinking. And now she was babbling about societies? If it wasn't simply a stealthy attempt at a charity, then she didn't understand the function of this Ladies' Society. What would a group of woman do in a room in London that they couldn't do in the comfort of their own homes?
Richard surprised her by saying that she should go. Elizabeth had brought it up haltingly in the middle of dinner, as kind of an oh-that-Mary story, expecting him to laugh at the concept like she had. Instead he had begun to wax nostalgic for his days in a men's club, filled with hunting and sport and all of the things men did without women around to civilize them. He said he had no clue what women would do without men around, and that he suspected that was the point.
It was a strange thing, Elizabeth thought – this idea that each gender was imprisoning the other by their very presence. She couldn't think of anything she wanted to do but couldn't do around Richard. Something emerged at the back of her mind, but her cheeks flushed and she shoved it back down. That would be improper. Sinful.
"So you think I should attend?" Elizabeth said, after a long silence in which she had been weighing her thoughts.
"I think it would be a good experience," said Richard. "Of course, if you don't want to..."
"I'm still thinking about it."
That night they made love. It was as it always was. He would get on top of her and Elizabeth would feel herself vaguely dislocated, like she was a ghost watching a man use an object, a doll that he could thrust his cock into. Then as time went on she began to feel sensations creeping up her body, sensations that were actually quite nice, but he grunted and spilled his seed in her and left her with nothing but frustration.
The day had snuck up on her. Still uncertain, Elizabeth decided to go, at least for one meeting. She thought it would be impolite to Mary not to. So after dinner she hired a carriage to take her into the city. She shivered with the cold, not used to being out at nights. She wondered how other people stood it, all this darkness, not being able to see what was five feet from your face.
Once they made it into London proper things were a bit better, with gas-lamps and torches providing enough illumination so that she was no longer afraid of monsters hiding in the dark. In London the monsters did not hide at all – filthy men with long beards laying on the sidewalk, staring up at her with dull eyes; prostitutes on every corner in their rags; children that darted in and out of the traffic with suicidal glee.
Elizabeth buried her face. "I had no idea it was so terrible here."
"We're only moving through a bad part," said the driver. "Don't worry Ma'am, we'll be out of here soon."
Sure enough, they eventually arrived in the area of the meeting which was, if not upscale, at least quiet. The building written on the piece of paper appeared to be some sort of inn. It didn't look that seedy, but Elizabeth still triple-checked the address. She tentatively told the carriage driver to wait there and ventured inside the building.
The lower floor of the inn was a public house that looked to have the kind of tawdriness and greasiness as Elizabeth had always heard about, although she had never actually been inside one. The barkeep, a man who looked to be keeping a spare loaf of bread in his belly, barely even looked up at her. "The ladies are upstairs."
"Th-thank you." Elizabeth found the stairs and quickly headed up them, trying to ignore the leers from the bar patrons. She almost tripped over the hem of her dress, so she lifted the sides up like a skipping schoolgirl and hurried up. The men below whistled at her, and she turned a furious scarlet.
When she found the room Elizabeth took a moment to compose herself before entering. She had never had much anxiety about social situations, but this was the complete unknown for her, venturing into Mary's elite and noble world. She needed to look proper, look like she would fit right in with these refined ladies, who even if they did meet in quite a shady environment were surely the epitome of class.
Elizabeth raised a trembling hand and knocked on the door.
A moment later it was thrown open by the largest woman Elizabeth had ever seen. She towered a full two heads above her, and had a full frame to match. She wore a man's shirt and breeches, and had shoulder-length black hair. At first Elizabeth had actually mistaken her for a man. The wall of a woman looked down at her and sized her up as though she were a cow at the market. "Who are you?"
There was, she suddenly noticed, the distinct scent of tobacco in the air. "I-i-i am Eliz-izabeth Rogers, and I'm a f-f-friend of, um, Mary..."
The big woman laughed. "Well come right in I guess. Hey Mary, you got a visitor."
She moved aside and all of a sudden Elizabeth could see the full meeting of the Ladies' Society for Leisure and Friendship. Several women sat around a large table, all doing things that were distinctly unladylike. Some had their corsets popped open and were slouching slovenly across their chairs. A couple others were drinking from pints of ale. Two women were arm-wrestling at the end of the table. And right in front of her was Mary, the prim and proper Mary, dress half-removed and smoking a pipe.
"Mary?" Elizabeth asked numbly, as though the woman in front of her was surely actually some sort of doppelganger.
"Hello Elizabeth," said Mary, taking out her pipe and waving it in greeting. "Welcome to the She-Romps. Come on in, take a seat."
Elizabeth had no idea how to respond. How could all of these women be behaving so vulgarly, so brutally, so like men? Especially Mary, a woman she had always looked up to as a model to emulate? Her body refused to sit and refused to run so she just stood there and stuttered out "Sh-she romps?"
"Yes," said Mary. "Oh, officially we're the Ladies Society for whatever it is, but we've decided we like the name She-Romps a lot better. We think it more fully encapsulates our philosophy."
A blonde woman with a noble air walked up to Elizabeth and pressed a hand to her stomach, feeling the trembling. "My, I think the new one is frightened. You've got yourself a baby, Mary."
"I'm not frightened," said Elizabeth, a bit too quickly. She found a spare chair and pulled it up to the large wooden table. "So, er, what does this society do?"
"Whatever we want to do," said the big woman.
A round of introductions later, Elizabeth learned that the big woman was Doreen, the aristocratic-looking blonde was Pamela, and the gorgeous tanned woman attached to her side was her servant Olivia. The rest of the women also introduced themselves, but their names fell through Elizabeth's memory quickly without leaving any trace.
The conversation that followed was bawdy and crude, like Elizabeth had always vaguely imagined taking place among lower-class men when they were alone. The women complained of their husbands' sexual inadequacies, told menstruation horror stories, and swore like sailors. Elizabeth just said nothing, just sat there turning beet red. There was an expression on everyone's face that Elizabeth couldn't quite figure out for a while, until it suddenly clicked into her mind. It was the same way Richard looked when one of her dinners was laid out before him. They were hungry. And all their hungry glances were directed towards her. Elizabeth fidgeted and started thinking of a way to excuse herself.
Pamela snapped her fingers, interrupting someone else's comment. "I tire of this," she said, adding a yawn for emphasis. "Olivia, please service me."
The blonde stood up and put her arms out wide, like she was posing for that DaVinci image of the human body. As if to help with that, Olivia stepped behind her master and began disrobing her, slowly removing the careful layers of clothing that enclosed the ladies like an oyster shell over the pearl. Elizabeth's mouth just slowly opened wider and wider until she was gaping more than she would have previously thought the human body capable of.
Olivia undid the last piece of underwear and let it fall to the floor. Pamela stood entirely nude before them, like in a painting. Her alabaster breasts were high and proud, tipped with pink nipples, and staring at them Elizabeth has a strange sensation, like a tickle in the back of her throat. She threw her hair back and looked out at them confidently. Even her womanhood, displayed prominently beneath a light patch of blonde hair, was out there for all to see.
"Mrs. Pamela, I really don't think--" Elizabeth began to exclaim, but she stopped suddenly when Olivia dropped to her feet. The servant pressed her face to the blond curls of Pamela's crotch and began kissing and licking and frankly slobbering over her most secret place.
The rest of the She-Romps watched on, entranced. Elizabeth turned around, expecting to find the same scandalized expression as was currently plastered to her face, but they all seemed fairly serene or even excited. She sputtered a bit before her indignation finally came out in words.
"What is going on here! How can you just stand by watching this ... this ... sinful fornication going on in front of our eyes! And Mary, how could you invite me to a gathering of such deviants?"
"Sinful?" Mary cocked her head. "All I see is two women having a grand old time together. What's sinful about that?"
"I ... I..." Elizabeth was just even flabbergasted that the morals of the behaviour before her were even being considered. It was so obviously obscene!
Pamela grinned cruelly. "Why, I think our dear Elizabeth is sounding a bit prudish, don't you."
"Indeed," said another woman.
"You know what we do to prudes around here?"
Once again Elizabeth's voice seemed to have deserted her. She flexed her jaw once or twice with no words emerging, then simply shook her head.
Doreen leaned in, her short hair brushing against Elizabeth's collarbone like the fingers of a ghost. "We break them."
And then she was caught up in a storm of arms and bodies, colourful fabric bouncing around exposed breasts, and she was lifted up by the tide and carried by what seemed like an army of women out of the meeting room and into a large bedroom. If she had time to get a good look at it Elizabeth would marvel at its side, large enough to fit a half-dozen people (which it frequently did) and the rich luxuriance of its sheets. It looked like something she would imagine a king sleeping in. But she could barely even glance at it before she discovered that her clothing was rapidly disappearing. She grabbed at her dress as it slipped down in between the mob and to the floor. Elizabeth was deposited on the bed in just her corset and stockings. She was surrounded by women with that look of hunger she had identified earlier, except much greater and much closer. Pamela had entered in all her nude glory, guiding along the shiny-lipped Olivia by the wrist as though she were a pet, and now stood in the doorway looking on with a bemused expression.
Mary climbed up onto the bed, unlacing her dress. "Girls, since I invited her here, I think I should have first taste." There was an assortment of groans, but the other She-Romps seemed to reluctantly, as none of them tried to tear Mary away and have Elizabeth all for herself.
Elizabeth was trying to cover up her body with her hands as much as possible. No one but Richard had seen her like this before. At the thought of Richard she felt a pang of remorse – why had she allowed him to talk her into this, why had she not followed her better judgement and stayed home, far away from slums full of deviants who looked at her with those ravenous eyes?
Mary hovered over her, straddling her like a wrestler. She kissed Elizabeth on the forehead, and then kissed her on the neck in a decidedly less sisterly way. At the sensation of the warm tongue journeying out onto her neck a full-body shiver passed through Elizabeth. There was that feeling again, that sensation she couldn't quite find a word for.
Mary put her lips to Elizabeth's ears. "If you really don't want to do this, I can get you out of here. The girls will be disappointed, but they'll let you go."
Elizabeth was too shocked to speak. This tone of civility and concern was like an ice cube pressed to her forehead on a hot summer's day.
Mary licked Elizabeth's earlobe in a careful, almost feline manner. "But I think you want to do this."
Elizabeth knew she would say no. Elizabeth knew she would get up furiously from the bed, shriek something about indecency and perversion as she gathered up her clothes, and run out the door and back into the world of sanity. That was just the person she was – a good, God-fearing woman. It was as natural a part of her as her nose or fingers.
So she was quite surprised when she heard herself saying yes.
Mary loomed over her, her face impossibly close. "You want me to pleasure you, Elizabeth?"
"Y-yes." It was as though another person was speaking through her.
Mary kissed her on the lips with an intensity that was entirely foreign to Elizabeth. She pried open the newcomer's lips and slipped her tongue in. Elizabeth was shocked at the warm, wet intruder, but felt a strange pleasure from it: like she was opening up boundaries, rearranging their body parts and merging bodies into some greater unity. After all, what else could a creature with two tongues in her mouth be?
And then she felt Mary reaching behind her, scrabbling for the ties to the corset. Elizabeth rolled over, burying her head into the soft and luxurious pillow. She felt the bodice come loose one tie at a time, and with each snap she felt freer, more air flowing into her lungs, her body expanding into a new form like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. When it was finally all undone Mary turned her over again.
There was a chorus of wolf-whistles and Elizabeth suddenly remembered that she and Mary were not alone. The She-Romps surrounded them, looking on with their hungry eyes. Some had their hands down their dresses and were panting with pleasure. Others had done as Pamela and Olivia had and were in tangles of two or three on the floor, looking up at the main attraction as they ran their hands and tongues over each other.
But now all eyes were on her breasts, those pale orange-sized humps, rising skyward, topped with dusky nipples that had hardened into points. Mary lowered her head and kissed one, then the other. Then, like an infant in search of milk, she took one of the breasts into her mouth and sucked, licked, and generally caressed it.
Elizabeth let out a surprised cry. Strange feelings were running through her – a bit like intensified versions of the strangeness she had received before, a bit like those jolts of pleasure she had occasionally received while in bed with Richard, but constant. Whatever it was, she was growing fond of it.
Mary switched over to the other breast, then buried her head in the valley of Elizabeth's cleavage for a brief moment. Then she sat up, looming tall over Elizabeth, a mistress in front of a slave. She began peeling down Elizabeth's stockings.
"'Ey, Mary!" shouted Doreen, who currently had a young woman buried between her legs. "You're looking a bit overdressed."
Mary looked down at her dress, wrinkled and undone in several places but still covering her body. "So I am." She got up off the bed and shed her clothes with inhuman speed. With all the different layers it sometimes took Elizabeth several minutes to get undressed, but either Mary had dressed light for today or she was just so eager to get back to Elizabeth that she was moving quick as lightning.
Elizabeth looked at Mary standing at the foot of the bed, looking for all the world like one of those topless mermaids that adorned the masts of pirate ships. It wasn't as though Elizabeth had never noticed how beautiful her friend was before – in fact, that was what she constantly thought about whenever Mary was over – but before she had always had a classical, ethereal beauty that seemed untouchable and unreachable. Now, seeing her in the nude with her creamy skins and her breasts that dipped down to end in soft pink nipples she looked like another human being, a human being that was climbing into bed with her and very, very, approachable.
Mary brought her legs, those impossibly long white legs, up onto the bed as she hunched down on all fours, a position that Elizabeth could have never previously imagined her taking clothed, let alone nude. But if tonight had changed anything it had shattered her notions of Mary as ladylike – or maybe her definition of ladylike.
Whether she was a lady or not, Mary was lowering her face to that hot delta between Elizabeth's legs. The newcomer took in a deep breath, not sure what to expect. Mary tugged at one of her thighs. "Dearie," she said. "You need to open your legs a bit."