The curate was one of those people who liked to be on time; he liked to be on time so much that he would arrive early, often much, much too early. It had happened at the Glendenburg’s dinner party when Mrs Glandenburg, in the middle of preparations still – she had to arrange with the chef which dessert was most suitable, she had to ensure the seating plan took account of precedence of office, birth and gender, she had to decide which floral accompaniment to wear with her cerise dress (unless she opted for the lavender and blue confection that her husband liked so much, and indeed liked to remove later so much, she shivered with future pleasure and chose that instead) – in short, she was far too busy to entertain Rev. Markham and brusquely sent him for a walk in the park. He didn’t mind this unfriendly treatment, he was used to it. He had arrived at his graduation fully two hours early and his professor had advised, none too kindly, that he needed to buy a better watch and get out of the way.
But on this day the curate had arrived at the railway station so early he found himself boarding the earlier train. The guard looked at his ticket and confirmed that it was suitable for the journey, he should change at Bowton for the stopping train to Cobbley Morton (which, for reasons which only a geographical lexicographer would be able to fully explain, was pronounced Co’lley’Ton). His original plan would have taken the slow train all the way, direct, but stopping at every small town from the Capital to the halt that was ostensibly Cobbley Morton village’s station, but was in fact more conveniently sited for the great house. The neighbouring village – Cobbley Morton Parva (which, again for reasons that no-one would ever properly understand, was pronounced Cobbley Morton Parva, and not, as locals found most amusing, ColleyTon Parva. Between Christmas and Easter laughing at the visitors was the only entertainment available) – had a vacancy for a curate, the gift of which was in the hands of the lords of Cobbley Morton. Marquess Deverre – the ninth Lord Cobble Morton – was by reputation sour, bad tempered, difficult, argumentative, and curmudgeonly. If this description seems to include words that overlap in meaning, it perhaps emphasises the nature of the man.
In Rev. Markham’s mind this all meant he must make sure he was not late in arriving for the house party. If he did but know it, arriving early to an interview with Lord C. was like a cow volunteering to go early to the slaughterhouse or a zebra wandering up to pride of lions and shouting ‘get me while I’m fresh’. Lord C. hated business, organisation, anything that required thought and planning. He loved hunting, shooting, fishing. Anything that involved visiting death on defenceless creatures was to be welcomed as a diversion now he was too old to lead his regiment into battle and kill soldiers (enemy or his own, it was all one to him really)
The journey was a combination of delightful scenery and manic fear; his friend, the Hon. Harry Peach, with whom he had been at Queen’s College, had heard of the vacancy and had pulled a few strings to get him listed. The normal incumbent was usually a priest looking for a quiet sinecure prior to retirement. Nominally the church was the mother church for the three Cobbley villages, but now that each their own place of worship, and Cobbley Magna (note, no Morton in this one – an historical accident due to the Morton family being out of favour when this village was established in 1459) had all but disappeared after the plague of 1667 (only a working farm and some mounds showed where it had been), now the church did not really need a vicar and a curate; but the grand family had endowed it with the funds for both and so both it would have. At the last appointment the bishop had mildly suggested some of the money might go to support one of the peripheral churches; Lord Cobble Morton’s response was rude, offensive, probably physically impossible for a man of the bishop’s age, and (it has to be admitted) very, very, funny. Since the vicar had had a stroke last year he had taken fewer services, the retiring curate had found himself worked harder than expected in that ensuing year, in one week he had taken 2 funerals and a wedding in addition to the standard Sunday morning service, the vicar insisted on still taking the evening service; no that was all too much so he, the curate, was retiring.
Josiah Markham was quiet, and retiring in the original sense of the word. He was not one to argue, hence he dreaded his meeting with Lord C. He did have strong, clear views on religion and his sermons bordered on the type often called ‘blood and thunder’, if blood and thunder could be delivered in a quiet reasonable voice. He generally believed that the logic and sanctity of his beliefs would be enough to win the day in any discussion and was surprised when people failed to be swayed despite his clear rightness. In short he was a true believer. His heart told him that he should be looking to spread the word in some city centre parish full of the great unwashed; but his head had persuaded himself that he needed more experience in a more peaceful parish first. That was why he was travelling to this backwater in the country. The countryside was beautiful though. As he looked out of the window, in between panic attacks at what he had chosen to undertake he rejoiced in the rightness of creation. Not the beauty of creation you will note, for there was a slight tendency to arrogance in the man, he was pleased to agree with God that He had created the world in the right way.
Instead of arriving on the 7pm stopping train as arranged (though no-one had suggested he would be collected, the letter he had received had suggested the best walking route to the house), he pulled in to the single platform on this branch line off another branch line at 2pm. He rejoiced to be fully 5 hours early! Yet when he walked across the fields to the house, he found it deserted. Lady C. was apparently visiting Earl deBank, who had recently buried his daughter, she was not expected back until 6pm; Lord C. was out hunting on the North Estate and not expected back before dinner; one of the servants suggested he might take a walk in the estate. So that was what he did, walking was something at which he was good, nay, excelled.
The estate seemed to stretch to the horizon and beyond. Small wooded valleys gave way to farms nestling below the hills that lead up to the moors. Someone who appreciated beauty would simply have sat and drunk in the bucolic scene, Josiah walked on. In one valley was a building, which from a distance looked more substantial. He walked down towards to it. There was something about it, it was out of place, neither a farmhouse surrounded by workaday buildings, nor a residence of some upcoming member of the middle class. Indeed he could not even see an access road or track to it. Yet as he got within 50 yards, he heard voices, female voices! Shrill and laughing. He found suddenly he craved some company, even that of empty headed, gossipy females. A gay shriek of pleasure erupted. Now he could see the frontage was plain in an impressively well-built way. Higher than one storey, yet not fully two storeys; to the sides the building continued for 20 feet or so, reduced to single floor. But wait! There were no windows. That was the oddest thing. Beyond the side wings a tall hedge encircled an oblong space perhaps 40 feet wide (the width of the frontage) by 60 feet long. The hedge was well tended and thick, but he could see there was a slight gap where the hedge abutted the wall end. Here the vegetation had retreated from the stone slightly. He edged up to see who were the denizens enjoying themselves with such excitement in this strangely built edifice.
Inside he could see a pool of water gently steaming and in the water three ladies were disporting themselves; splashing and shrieking with unladylike abandon. In one instant a female with her back to him stood up with a jump and he realised that these people were completely devoid of any clothing! He was both fascinated to see the perfectly rounded and delightfully shaped buttocks on this woman whose back he was looking it, and shocked at such a display of lasciviousness. So shocked was he by her bottom that it took some seconds of study before his eyes travelled up to take in her hair, a luscious cascade of blonde curls; even now, wet as it was, it did not hang straight but struggled to maintain at least some curvature as it fell down to the middle of her back. At which point of course his eyes were drawn lower to those delightful mounds again. Now bending, she was splashing at the other two who only allowed their heads to appear above water. In bending she revealed more of herself and he found his body reacting to the sight of what was clearly that secret place, viewed from behind. It took an enormous effort of will to drag himself away from viewing these creatures. He was horrified and the more so because his manly erection was demonstrating that the desires he thought he had under control were only in abeyance. Once more he marvelled at the saints who eschewed all sins of the flesh for a life of prayer (this was not a respect he felt able to offer Catholic Priests since they had chosen that course despite being on the wrong religious path entirely). In his work in the city he had manfully controlled all desire for the dirty, unkempt creatures he was able to help and comfort with promises of safety in heaven; there was little in the way of practical help on earth but that was hardly his fault; to be fair to him he had on occasion paid for a rail fare to send a girl who had lost her way – moral and geographical – back to the town of her birth, but he had little more pecuniary means to help. Still, when these, dirty, dishevelled, and often smelly, creatures offered physical comfort in recompense, he had found himself capable of resisting what he thought of as temptation. Now he began to realise there had been no temptation since he was not in the least minded to accept.
He hurried back to the house, where the under-butler (a deliberate slight, suggesting he was not important enough for the butler) showed him his room.
That evening a note was delivered to his door informing him that the family were all regrettably called away and hoping he would not mind dining alone. In truth Lady C. had opted to stay to tend personally to Earl deBank’s grief. It cannot be doubted that having lost his young second wife in childbirth last year and his daughter of 4 years this, he was in a delicate state; she was to be commended for her solicitude, but whether that solicitude should have taken the form of attending to his every need in bed is another matter entirely. Lord C. had found himself at the far end of the estate having ridden three horses to a standstill. He had fallen twice and was muddy, tired and irascible having only seen two foxes torn to shreds by the hounds. So the hounds went home and Lord C. opted to take a room in the hostelry and regale the regulars with stories of hunting in Africa. Stories they were pleased to hear all the while he continued paying for rounds of drinks.
It would not apparently have been suitable for Rev. Markham, an unmarried man, to take dinner with the three unmarried daughters of the family, so he dined alone and content not to make conversation with young, uninformed female minds. He was sure such children were in any case unlikely to be allowed to attend dinner at their age for had been told they were all very young. In this his informant had been mistaken or perhaps they had different interpretations of what ‘very young’ might mean; but it meant he made no connection with the encounter earlier in the day.
That night, no doubt the result of the unusually rich food, he found himself dreaming of things that he had determinedly put away many years before. At 15, when he had decided upon the church (both by his own decision and because he was the younger son), he had engaged on a regime of cold showers and rigorous exercise and thus had trained his mind to avoid thoughts of an unsavoury nature. This had meant the unsettling dreams had ceased. These dreams had started when he was 12, his elder brother being discovered in bed with their governess – who to a 12 year old seemed positively ancient, but to his brother of 14 was apparently a willing teacher – she was of course summarily dismissed, he was sent to sea and Josiah had begun to have dreams in which the governess, the dismissed one, not the replacement who was fat, bespectacled and old, had begun to feature. His brother had rapidly discovered that the old adage of a sailor having a wife in every port was no legend, and he rapidly populated much of the Mediterranean and the Africa with scions of the line. Later he inherited wealth as the elder brother, Josiah only receiving a minor portion with a small annuity. Josiah had become a true, honest and somewhat puritan church member and now cleric; until now his thoughts had not been troubled by what invaded his dreams again. A naked woman – still in the likeness of that long lost governess – weaved in and out of his dream state, always walking away from him. Always displaying her rear. He awoke at 7am with an erection and, to his horror, his hand caressing his part. Even more to his self-disgust, he did not stop, but continued until the desired emission took place. He was ashamed but realised that this was essential for his sanity since he was unable to rid his mind of the image he had seen. He knew that too much of the sin of Onan would in itself lead to madness; he knew this because Dr. Beaker, the head teacher at his school, had said it was so.
Breakfast was similarly solitary, but at luncheon finally the family drew together and he met the family.
“Ah, Mr. Markham, so sorry we were both away, I had assumed my husband would be here to greet you but I understand he was detained at the edge of the estate” intoned Lady C.
“No bother I assure you Lady Deverre”
“Ah, no, my husband is Lord Deverre, and Lord Cobble Morton, but I am only Lady Cobble Morton; and Lady Brandenburg Claus Schitsberg Tonitz in my own right of course. But we tend to prefer Lord and Lady C. It is so much simpler” She was somewhere in the region of 40, he decided, though she was well-preserved. Which is not to say she took pains to apply embalming fluid to her features as some older women appear to do; she was simply one of those fortunate women who did not age particularly rapidly. He noticed and then pointedly took no notice of her well-developed bosom. He knew she was from one of the many small German states that were being united under the foresight and vision of Mr Bismark, but found that had he not known this he would have been hard put to notice an accent. There was a slight intonation in some words, but she had all but completed the assimilation into English Lady.
“Yes, I see, that is to say I’m not sure I do but I shall be honoured to call you Lady C if that is acceptable”
“DO YOU RIDE!?” came a loud voice behind him, he swung round to see the red, pockmarked face of Lord C., a man fully 20 years older than his wife, staring at him, Lord C was still a fine figure, some would say scary.
“Yes, that is to say a little. Nothing excessive you understand”
“No, damn you, I DON’T understand! How can riding be excessive?”
“Now darling, don’t scare Mr Markham, he undoubtedly means he does not ride much, as I’m sure his vocation would not expect him to”
“Stopes rode, right until his stroke! Damn fine rider too!” Stopes was the old vicar, still taking services, but struggling to deliver lucid sermons now with his mouth half paralysed. It was lucky that the services were laid down in the service book since the congregation knew what Rev Stopes was trying to say even if the words were unclear. Unfortunately his sermons were both somewhat verbally unclear and mentally vague as Rev Stopes was become less able to formulate a cogent argument from the gospel readings. His sister had attempted to help, when she started making notes for the congregation to follow, but even she had trouble explaining why the feeding of the 5000 meant one should vote Tory, for example. She ‘forgot’ to make notes on the sermon of the woman at the well – it would not do to have the villagers thinking Jesus approved of unmarried cohabitation.
“Yes, dear, but Mr Markham no doubt has other accomplishments”
“Pah! Do you shoot?!” Mr Markham would rapidly realise that “Pah!” was riposte to any point that Lord C. could not encompass in his limited vocabulary.
“Not much your Lordship”
“Well, what do ya do?”
“I read sir, I am re-reading Fox’s Book of Martyrs at the moment”
“Pah!” Lord C walked away.
“Indeed, how interesting, it is a favourite of mine also” Lady C. was, despite a somewhat flexible interpretation of her church-bound marriage vows, mostly very devout. They quickly found that they were at opposite ends of the spectrum of the Anglican Church. Rev Markham was more of the evangelistic and liberal end, whilst Lady C. was more high church and traditional; but at least, they both thought, they were both dedicated to the church. “Let me introduce you to my daughters Mr Markham”
Here he was drawn across the room to the three young ladies talking quietly. These were clearly not the children he had been led to expect.
“Lady Andrea” A woman of perhaps 19 or 20.
“Lady Anthea” 17 or 18 years of age? “and our youngest daughter, Lady Amelia” a girl of perhaps 15 years. At this her father called.
“Amelia, come here girl, I want to tell you about the horse I saw for sale in Magna”
If he had thought that perhaps these golden haired beauties might be the girls from yesterday, watching Amelia walk away convinced him. Her hair, though dry obviously, had just the same length, lustre and wave of the girl from yesterday. And even under the layers of cloth he was convinced that the bottom retreating from his carefully uninterested gaze was the bottom he had seen naked and perfect the previous day.
He realised almost immediately that he could not stay. He had seen his patron’s daughter nude, if only from behind, it would not be appropriate. He also realised almost as quickly that he could find no satisfactory excuse if he was offered the curacy. He could not claim a better offer, he had none. The truth would not be an option.
As the day wore on it became clear that Lord C’s role was merely to agree to Lady C’s choice. Lord C hated organisation, planning, paperwork. He wasn’t a fan of clerics either unless they could ride, shoot or fish. He left all organisation to his wife. The role of curate had usually been offered to a deserving old codger looking for a gentle phase into retirement; there was never a shortlist, just a letter offering the post. Similarly Josiah found he was not in competition, he simply had to persuade Lady C he was the right choice. Or at least persuade her that he wasn’t the wrong choice. He was on a list of one. The post was his to lose. He set himself the task of emphasising the differences they had over religion. He opposed the use of incense, she found it was essential to a contemplative mind. She asked if fallen women should have a second chance (an interesting question considering her current state of faithfulness to her husband), he thought that their Lord’s example showed that yes, they should; she demurred strongly on this. And so on, by the end of the day he was convinced he had done enough to make him ineligible for the role of curate. He went to bed comforted and slept soundly, broken only by a dream in which all three sisters were introduced to him and then walked away with their skirts tucked up, revealing alluringly swaying buttocks for his view.
He had to get away, his balance was being affected. He couldn’t wait to leave. At breakfast Lady C. said that Lord C. wished to speak to him in the library. Ah! He wishes to tell me I am entirely unsuitable. Excellent.
Knocking at the door of the library he was peremptorily ordered to “ENTER! Ah, YES, Mixtam? Makton? Markham, yes, yes. So START JULY 1st WHAT!?”
“I’m sorry to hear that, no ... wait, what? You want me to start as your curate?”
“Natch! That’s why you’re here ya dimwit. Lady C. said you stood up well to her; can’t see it mee-self, you seem weedy, poor specimen. Still there we are, she speaks, I listen. Now, can’t stop, got a poacher to horsewhip”
Josiah hoped he was joking, but suspected he was not.
He was trapped. Ironically the next three weeks went well. Away in his digs, packing his books, ordering a new surplus, visiting his parents, thanking Harry; all this took his mind off the distraction that had plagued him. He felt he was once more conquering the devilish side of his mind. So he travelled down, fully a day early as was his wont, in a calmer frame of mind. Arriving at the halt, he had had the forward thinking to telegraph to the post office to ask them to arrange transport for his boxes and bags. It being a pleasant day he opted to walk to his curacy house; which he was assured would be cleaned and ready for him (though of course he was expected the following day which put the housekeeper in a flurry when his luggage arrived).
All unconsciously he found his feet drew him to the valley wherein stood the spa, for this he had discovered was what it was. 150 years ago a hot spring had been discovered. The sixth Lord Cobble Moton (the spelling changed over time), had had the building and the pool constructed whilst sending out people in either direction to scour the valleys for other hot springs or elemental streams; this would be a new Bath or Harrogate he was sure. Sadly only this one was ever found and if the strictly male visitors enjoyed their visits, it never became more that a novelty rather than a money-turner. Nevertheless, and especially oddly now there was only one male who might enjoy it, and he regarded washing as a short-term necessity rather than a pleasurable indulgence, the facility had been maintained and the pond regularly raked for leaves. It was in perfect working order when the girls discovered it as children and purloined a key (and had a duplicate made) from the housekeeper. It was their secret place; it had always been. As adults they might have seen it more questionably, but having grown up from well before puberty divesting their clothes and playing in the warm waters, they were not able to see that their mutual nakedness now might be seen differently than when they were featureless young girls. They had some notion of all this since they only visited now when both parents were away, but tried to ignore the nagging doubts as to the propriety of their behaviour. Such was the story of the Turkish Spa building.
Josiah of course had no knowledge of any of this, neither did he know that Lord C. was happily decimating the animal population of Scotland, and the Lady C. was making good use of his time away by amply consoling Earl deBank. Indeed at that very moment he was being consoled between her bosoms; she had managed to bring a smile to his grief stricken face, surely a welcome development.
When Josiah arrived, the three were in the steam room. They were playing ‘Tally Ho’, a game the old maid, mainly retired before they were born but kept on out of noblesse oblige, had explained one Christmas to them when she was a little tiddley from the bonhomie (naturally not from the sherry bottle they had stolen for her). They had found the spa and could not understand its purpose, she had explained some of it, now she was expanding on it. “Well, me dears. In the old days, when lots of men came to stay, they used to play this game. They would all sit in the steam room for as long as the Master of Ceremonies thought appropriate. If he was tough, some would give in and leave as they overheated, they would have to do a forfeit. But when the Master of Ceremonies shouted ‘tally ho!’ they all had to rush to the pool and jump in. The last one in became the new Master of Ceremonies and the game would begin again.”
As Josiah peered through the gap in the hedge – he had tried the front door and found it locked, the girls were sensible – he heard the cry ‘tally ho!’ and then to his amazed shock (and a little delight) saw three entirely naked women run past and jump into the shallower end of the pool. For of course none of them could swim, they had never had the opportunity to learn. He had, he realised, caught glimpses of breast as they ran past. Once again he was racked with shame at what he watched, and at how he had been excited by it. He hurried away, a man with a secret vice. He knew he would return and prayed for the strength to resist.
In his new home he was distracted and not nearly as concerned by the unready state it was in. The housekeeper spread the word that he was a kindly man with his mind on other-worldly, higher things. In fact he was a kindly man with his mind on very basic, sensual things; but the appearance was the same.
Finally the housekeeper bustled off to her own home having made “everything nice and spick and span”. He had been left with some cold meats and cold boiled potatoes and pickles. He opted to eat late and first to walk across the grounds to introduce himself once again to the family that had sponsored his appointment. His surprise at finding the Lord and Lady away turned to dismay when the three girls insisted on entertaining him. He found it very hard not to imagine the bodies that hid beneath the copious layers of clothing. They of course thought his diffidence was simply due to shyness and set about ‘bringing him out of himself’ as they put it.
“I do hope you will not find our parish too quiet Mr Markham, after the excitements of the big city”
“Oh, you know, one goes where the Lord sends one”
“But surely it must have been challenging working with such people in the slums? I hear their morals are not to be envied”
He smiled “Forgive me Lady Amelia, but many of our poorer citizens have very strict morals. Some do not of course, and the level of drunken violence is to be regretted most earnestly; but I found many households with barely a penny to their name yet they made sterling attempts to keep a clean and tidy room”
Amelia giggled and replied “I am suitably reprimanded”
“Oh, no! I mean, I never intended; oh dear! I am most heartily –”
Anthea intervened “Mr Markham, do not distress yourself, my sister is teasing you I fear”
“Oh, ah, I see, just so”
Anthea continued “but surely it is a fact that the number of births outside wedlock is higher in the cities, does that not indicate something?”
“Yes, indeed. But we must not be quick to judge all with the same brush” he said mixing his metaphors “I mean, well...” Oh dear, was this a suitable discussion? “Some of the births are due to an enforced communion, if you understand me; others are the result of whole families sleeping in the same room, sometimes the same bed. Others again are simply because the woman has left an unsuitable marriage but has no opportunity to obtain the judicial forms of separation open to more wealthy families”
“Do you mean” Lady Andrea spoke sotto voce, as if talking quietly about such matters made it more acceptable “that a family may sleep together and, well” she looked at her youngest sister and now she too wondered at the direction the conversation had taken; but her sister had tired of teasing the new curate and was idly watching the crows out on the lawns. “that they may relate with each other?”
“I fear it is well established Lady Andrea. A father or a brother may become a father, if you understand me”
The two older girls did, and briefly pondered the idea of their father getting them with child; Anthea shuddered, though Andrea found herself slightly amused at the presumed military campaign approach he would take. The subject was changed rather abruptly to the nature of pre-destination, something which Josiah was much more comfortable expounding upon.
“Yes, of course it can be argued that God knows what we would, or will, choose and therefore could pre-dispose us to that choice. But that is to ignore the very essence of self-determination and free-will which God in his infinite wisdom gave us. If God predisposes us to make that choice then we have not made that choice; if we make the choice freely there is no reason why Our Father may not see what that choice will be before we make it since He knows all things.”
“And of course, surely, if God predestines us, then he predestined Adam and Eve to fail; which would surely make it less their fault?”
Josiah could not allow God to be at fault even in a spurious and false theory and sought to undermine that particular idea. When he left, he left three confused young ladies; convinced though he was that he had satisfactorily destroyed any possibility of that false doctrine taking hold in their young female hearts. Such matters were, regrettably, rather too complex for the female mind to comprehend.
His first sermon was to be the following Sunday, and naturally many occasional churchgoers opted to attend with the regulars to catch a glimpse of the new curate. Life is slow in the countryside, excitements have to be garnered where they may fall. Lord and Lady C and the three girls naturally took their place in their private pew. Private pews were theoretically not allowed any more, but of course nobody would dare sit in their pew. The old vicar shuffled in and distracted many with his ear trumpet. Reverend Markham felt his sermon on the sower and the wheat that fell in different places was most appropriate to the congregation, though two farmers after told him that the sower was clearly a wastrel for allowing seeds to fall amongst weeds.
“Capital, capital. Jolly good” said Lord C and strode off towards his house, dinner was ready; the sermon had been rather longer than expected and Lord C wanted to eat and get out to shoot some rabbits ... or pheasants ... or crows ... or anything really. Lady C smiled indulgently.
“You will join us for lunch Mr Markham? I shall take the coach; girls, you and Mr Markham can walk across the grounds, the exercise will give you an appetite”
Though the walk was shorter than the road it crossed a small stream via the old bridge, when the bridge partially collapsed the Lord at the time took the opportunity to build a road that looped around the estate, hiding it from view. The footpath still crossed what remained of the bridge but when they came to it, it looked even more precarious than usual.
“Oh dear, Papa really must fix this, it gets worse every year” Amelia said “Mr Markham, would you mind helping me across?”
The girls played up their fear, and insisted that the curate pass backwards and forwards, helping each across. They prettily picked up their skirts so they would not catch on protruding stones. They knew that their ankles would be an attractive view to any red-blooded man. Josiah of course had seen much more already and the girls were surprised at his lack of reaction. They had all three noticed his eyes on them in the church and before, in the house; it wasn’t that he was uninterested in women, they were sure of that. Perhaps he really was an honest, devout churchman with eyes on higher things. This latter was partially true, though the higher things were the attractive naked breasts, the images of which he could not expunge from his mind.
“What do you do for amusement Mr Markham? I suppose you do not approve of cards? Mama says that we are not old enough to play but; can you keep a secret? We play sometimes when Mama is away”
“Are you not afraid of being found out Lady Anthea?”
“Oh we play in a building we have –”
“Anthea! Forgive me, Mr Markham, that is our secret place which we have had since childhood”
“Ah, I perceive you mean the Turkish Spa Room?”
“How? How do you know of it?”
Josiah smiled, he hoped it was mysteriously, “I like to know the goings on in my parish” he had not meant to imply more than that he knew about the building, but the girls took him to mean their complete secret was revealed. “You may rest assured, your secret is safe with me”
Now he meant to imply that he now knew of their card playing and that that secret was safe, they took him to mean the naked bathing. Whereas he could justify the former as a small peccadillo, the latter was not and if he knew, and others knew he knew, then he would have been under an obligation to tell their parents. Since he believed they did not know he knew, he felt safe in not telling. For their part they were half grateful at having such an open minded curate, and half concerned at the obligation they now thought themselves under. He thought he had hidden his knowledge well and set himself to know when next the girls would venture there.
Dinner was a drawn out affair of fish, bird, beef, pudding; with Lord C holding forth on the gross evil of poaching and suggesting that the earlier punishment of hanging for it should be brought back. The Vicar heard only half the conversation and therefore responded seemingly at random to comments addressed to him. Lady C was intent upon persuading Lord C to have one of the wings re-decorated. All in all the conversations seemed random and disjointed. Josiah was pleased when it finally ended. Andrea whispered “it isn’t always quite as bad as this. You must come more often though, to keep us sane”
She was trying to be especially nice to the man she believed to hold their special secret, which he did, but he believed they did not know he did. This confusion was relieved when it was realised that Lord C was called to appear in the House of Lords on the following week to vote down a damned Radical suggestion that men of no property might be allowed to vote “Bloody stupid idea”
“Sorry my dear ... But dammit, it IS a bloody stupid idea. To let the labouring classes have a say in who should govern them. I mean they should only get the vote if they can be trusted to vote the way their employers tell them to. Else it’s just madness. Still we’ll put a stop to it all.
Then I can get back and fix those damn poachers once and for all. I was thinking of mantraps connected to shotguns?”
“Is that strictly legal Lord C?” asked one of the guests
“What was that? Yes, I believe Manfred IS connected to the Shoguns. Japan you mean?” This last from the vicar.
Of course as soon as Lord C was off to London, Lady C made plans to console Lord deBank. Lady C was a good 20 years younger than Lord C, who was touching 60 and looked older. Lady C had been swept off her feet as a flighty 20 year old by the handsome General in her home country. She was already expecting their first child when they married – once according to the Roman rites and then ‘properly’ (as Lord C put it) when they arrived in England. For a few years she found he supplied all the loving she could need, or cope with, but slowly age and a desire to kill animals rather than procreate took over and she found herself left more and more to her own pleasures (in the bedroom and out). They had two more children but, whether because of the constant supply of female children only or simply because of declining libido, Lord C went off coupling. Lady C had now found a new lease of life in consoling their neighbour for his sad loss; he was more than willing to be consoled in the way she suggested.
Rumours spread of course, but either unaware or uncaring, Lord C apparently failed to hear them.
Rev Markham kept a watch for the carriage of Lady C passing out of the estate. That signalled that Lord C must have left also and so Josiah made his careful way to the spa house, would the young ladies be there? No-one was there when he arrived and he made the bold approach of squeezing between hedge and wall to enter the building from the pool. This door at least was unlocked. He heard a sound, a key turned and he scurried to hide; unsure as he was now as to his intent.
The girls entered, from his hiding place in a handy cupboard full of mops and the like he saw them enter and lock the door behind. Then quickly they made their way to the gentleman’s (for this had originally been intended only for men) changing room. Josiah exited his hiding place and hesitated in the hallway; what was he intending to do? Shouldn’t he have put a stop to this escapade by announcing his presence and threatening them with hell, damnation, and their father’s wrath?
As he hesitated over what to do, three naked ladies ran laughing from the changing room and stopped dead in their tracks seeing him.
Amelia was the first to recover. Not bothering to cover herself (since he had seen everything already) she stood as if fully dressed and said “Ah, Mr Markham, what an unexpected pleasure. Are you joining us?” And with that she sashayed towards the pool as if she was wearing an elegant ball gown rather than her birthday suit.
The other two ladies, perhaps because of their greater age, development and (he noticed) relatively bushy groinal growth, had made efforts to cover themselves with their hands. A delicate, feminine hand therefore was spread over Anthea’s private area whilst her hand covered one breast, leaving the other displayed, her heavy breathing causing it to rise and fall, and likewise cause the curate to rise (but not fall); this latter making him increasingly uncomfortable.
Andrea had taken better stock of the situation and covered both her breasts with an arm horizontally across the midpoint, where the parts most shocking to expose to public gaze were situated. Her other hand she used to similarly shield her pubic zone, but had also turned slightly to make it in any case less visible. That this tended to expose her delightful bottom was a problem she felt could be contended with more easily.
The two opted, after standing like two rabbits in torch light, to walk towards the warm water of the pond; Anthea still attempting to shield herself from view, walked rather strangely with a hand behind her, intending to shield part of her bottom, especially the cleft, from view. Andrea took her youngest sister’s lead and walked away as if fully dressed, her waist swaying alluringly.