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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
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First Printing, March 2009
Copyright © Charlotte Lovejoy, 2009
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
Madame Bliss: the erotic adventures of a lady/Charlotte Lovejoy.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01966-5
1. England—Fiction. I. Title.
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For Twin Girl, who always gets the joke
In which the reasons for this History are given,
along with certain other Opinions of the Author
regarding the Sensual Education of Heroines
Innocence in women is a vastly overrated quality, and an unnecessary one at that. Men will always try to keep the female sex in this ignorant state, the better to preserve their advantage over those whom Nature has already contrived to be more gentle and tender, more ornament than effect.
Yet I ask you, my readers, to look into your own hearts, and answer true this question: what is innocence but a lack of the knowledge? How can any woman truly choose the path of righteousness, if she has never been tempted by sin, or faltered, and returned wiser to the ways of goodness? And further: why is it better for women to remain so inexperienced and unformed, and never taste the delights, the pleasures, the joys that only love can bring?
Being as the world can be a priggish place, there will be those who will judge the heroine of these pages no true heroine at all, but a low and undeserving creature, a harlot, a hussy, a concubine, a courtesan. But to be fair, Miss MARIANNA WREN is many other things as well, a shining example of a woman who can rise up and triumph over misfortune, and be merry along the way. In short, she exemplifies the sweet tangle of contradiction that lies within every woman, and thus is most deserving of being the Heroine.
And as all good (and bad) heroines deserve, her story begins with innocence lost, and love found. . . .
In which the Heroine is introduced, & swiftly
makes her first acquaintance both with the Hero,
& with that impish god Eros
The summer sun still hung low and lazy in the Devonshire sky, the shadows cast by the oak trees long across the meadows and the dew nodding heavy on the tall grasses. Yet it was not like any other morning, for in those same tall grasses lay a squalling, woeful female infant.
This sorry newborn babe knew nothing of men, for even the father who sired her had refused to give her his name. Of a mother’s love, she knew little more, for her mother, poor woman, could contrive no better course for her child than to cast her away at three days’ age, and abandon her against a hummock at a lonely country crossroads. The tender infant had no sustenance, no comfort beyond a tattered blanket to shelter her from the elements, and if she’d not been intended for greater things, she surely would have perished from thirst or hunger or mongrel dogs, with none to mourn her tiny corpse.
But on that particular summer day, Fate sent the traveling coach of Lady Catherine Worthy rumbling over the crossroads, and near to where the babe lay. Frightened by the thunderous sound of the coach’s great ironbound wheels, the babe cried aloud so shrill that it drew the attention of Lady Catherine Worthy. The lady thrust her head from the coach’s window, crossly mistaking the babe’s pitiful wail for the squeak of an axle purposefully misaligned by wheelwrights determined to cheat her.
“Stop, there, stop!” she shouted to her driver. “Stop at once, I say!”
The great coach lumbered to a halt, yet still the sound persisted, shrill and vexing. Her Ladyship leaned farther from the window, the lace-trimmed lappets on her cap flapping on either side of her face, and waved her hand imperiously at the footman who rode on the box behind.
“You there!” she called. “Someone has tossed away a pup by the road. I see it myself, there in those weeds. Go back and fetch it now, haste, haste! There is nothing I loathe more than some low villain discarding a pup like rubbish.”
The footman trotted back and plucked not a dog, but the babe, from the grass. Bewildered, he looked back to the coach, holding the wriggling (and quite damp) infant at arm’s length away from his splendid silver-laced livery coat.
“It’s not a pup, m’lady,” he shouted. “It’s a baby.”
“A baby, you say?” Disappointment filled the lady’s voice. “Not a pup?”
“No, m’lady,” the footman said, squinting warily down at the wretched child in his arms. “Do you still wish me to bring it, m’lady?”
“A baby.” Her ladyship sighed mightily. “I do not suppose we can leave it here, else wild pigs shall eat it, and there’s another soul lost from Heaven. Is it a boy baby or a girl?”
With a single indelicate finger, the footman lifted the baby’s swaddling blanket to peer inside: the first ever to ogle this poor infant so, but far from the last. “A girl, m’lady.”
“A girl.” Her ladyship sighed again. “Very well. Our Christian duty demands that we offer assistance to those who cannot provide for themselves. We shall keep her, and order her baptized this Sabbath.”
Thus through the charity of her ladyship, the foundling girl came to live among the serving staff at Worthy Hall. She was duly baptized, and named Mary, for Our Lord’s Mother, and because that was the name her ladyship called all serving girls. As a surname, she was given Wren, because her ladyship deemed that a proper bird for an orphan to emulate: small, humble, industrious, and plain.
Alas for Lady Catherine’s careful plans! As Mary Wren grew, it became clear that there was very little of the humble wren in her. Her temper was not given to humility, but to spirit, and though she was too often corrected with the rod by her betters, she still spoke freely whenever she perceived injustice or unfairness.
Yet the unfairness often fell towards Mary herself. While she toiled hard at every task presented to her as the lowest scullery maid, working from before dawn until long past sunset, her labors were never judged sufficient by Cook or Mrs. Able, the housekeeper. No matter how hard Mary worked, she never could seem to please, and she despaired over how sorry a character they would give for her if ever she dared to leave for another place, at another house.
Least wrenlike of all was Mary’s appearance. By the sixteenth anniversary of her coming to the Hall, she had grown into the rarest beauty, and much more a swan than a wren. Her complexion was clear and bloomed like a damask rose, her hair dark and curling, her teeth even and her eyes the brightest sapphire. Further, she’d grown into a lushly ripe young woman, her breasts full and high and her waist small, and despite her modest servant’s dress and cap, she was remarked by men of every station wherever she went.
Pray recall that at the tender age of sixteen, Mary was still innocent, a virgin in every possible way. She did not seek the constant attention she received, nor did it please her. Instead it made her feel uncertain and confused, even shamed, so much so that her cheeks were constantly ablaze with her misery.
To no surprise, the footmen, grooms, and other men on our staff soon discovered this, teasing Mary whenever they could. They’d torment her even in the servants’ pew at church each Sunday, contriving ways to pinch the roundest part of her bottom each time she knelt at prayers, or snatch aside her kerchief from her bosom to reveal more of her softly rounded breasts to their prying eyes.
Thus one summer morning, when Mary heard the other women in the kitchen giggling and whispering about a rare handsome young gentleman who was among the party of visitors new arrived at the Hall, she didn’t join their gossip, but concentrated instead upon shelling the beans for the servants’ nooning.
“They say Lady Nestor won’t stay a night away from home without Mr. Lyon at her side,” said Betty, a chambermaid, as she sipped her dish of watered tea with a true lady’s daintiness. “Her ladyship claims she would perish without his counsel and his succor, he’s that pious a young gentleman.”
“Oh, aye, succor,” scoffed Susannah, the cook’s maid, as she sliced onions into neat white rings. “I’ve seen that Johnny Lyon, the handsome rascal, just as I’ve seen how her ladyship fawns and dotes upon him, though she’s old enough to be his mother. The only succoring between those two comes with her mouth tugging upon his pious prick.”
“Not before the lass, Susannah,” Betty cautioned, even as she laughed raucously. “Don’t sully Mary’s maidenly ears.”
Maidenly or not, Mary’s ears had already heard their fill of Mr. John Lyon. Another orphan like herself, he’d been taken up by Lady Nestor, Lady Catherine’s oldest friend. But while Lady Catherine had made Mary a servant, Lady Nestor had decided her orphan showed uncommon promise, and had paid for Mr. Lyon’s education as if he’d been a gentleman born. She’d determined him for the clergy, but her servants as well as the ones at Worthy Hall judged him far too handsome to be wasted in a pulpit.
This was all Mary knew of Mr. Lyon, nor did she care to learn more. She’d heard enough. She bowed her head and pretended not to listen, a ruse the other two women at once saw through.
“Those maidenly ears?” Susannah jabbed her knife in the air to signify the maid. “Why, Mary’s no better than the rest o’ us. You’ll see. Some pretty lad will catch her fancy and tickle her between her legs, and she’ll be on her back with her petticoats in the air faster’n you can speak the words.”
“I will not!” Mary said warmly, her head still lowered over the bowl of beans. “I’ve vowed to Lady Catherine with my hand upon the Holy Scripture that I’ll stay a maid until I wed, and not be tempted to sin.”
“Vows so foolish as that are made to be broken, Mary,” Betty said, not unkindly. “You shouldn’t swear to oaths that can’t be kept, even if her ladyship asks it of you.”
“I’ve a notion to test her,” Susannah said. “Mr. Lyon’s coffee is almost ready, Mary. You take it up to him in the drawing room.”
Betty gasped. “Mary can’t go above stairs,” she said indignantly. “She’s kitchen staff.”
“This once she can,” Susannah said, determined to have her so-called test. “Mr. Lyon wants his coffee, and has been ringing and ringing for it, and Mary here’s the only one in the kitchen who could take it up. Unless you be too timid to do it, Mary?”
“I’m not frighted by this Mr. Lyon.” Mary set her bowl on the table with a thud, and untied her apron. “He’s only a mortal man of flesh and blood, and no more.”
“Oh, aye, he’s flesh enough,” Betty said, chuckling. “Charming, luscious manly flesh, in all his glory. But I warrant even a maid like you will soon see that for yourself. Go now. Take the tray, and mind you keep clear of her ladyship.”
“And mind you come back directly to tell us everything. Everything.” Susannah thrust her tongue from her mouth and touched it to her lips, suggestive enough to make Betty burst with fresh merriment.
Like the cawing of two crows, their laughter followed Mary as she climbed up the back stairs with Mr. Lyon’s tray in her hands. She was much vexed by their amusement, coming as it did at her expense, and she thought of a score of clever retorts she should have made to end their teasing. She’d not been tempted by any man or boy heretofore. Why should she weaken now?
But by the time she reached the front hall, her temper had cooled. Test or no, she didn’t belong here, and she hurried across the black-and-white marble floor towards the drawing room as swiftly as she could. Her plain linsey-woolsey gown seemed woefully out of place amongst the upstairs splendor, and even the painted faces of long-ago Worthys hanging on the walls seemed to sneer their disapproval down from their gilded frames.
She’d face consequences enough if Lady Catherine came upon her, but the ones she feared more were from Mr. Punch, the butler, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Able, both more exalted in her world than the mistress. If either one discovered Mary so far from the kitchens, she’d be thrashed for certain, and likely be burdened with extra tasks for punishment as well. With such a threat to spur her on, she was close to running by the time she scratched on the drawing room door, and woefully out of breath, too.
“Enter,” came the deep masculine voice inside. With the tray balanced clumsily against her side, Mary turned the knob, and pushed the door open with her hip. But because the day was warm, or perhaps only because she was so anxious, the door stuck tight in its jamb. Fearful at being faulted by Mr. Lyon for this delay, she swung the full force of her hip against the recalcitrant door, and turned the knob again.
Of course the door chose that instant to give way, and Mary flew headfirst into the room, staggering and bumbling like a wayward sot as she struggled not to drop the tray with the coffeepot, dish, and sweet biscuits. She lurched forward across the oaken floorboards, her gaze intent upon the tray, her horrified face reflecting back to her in the distorted curve of the polished silver pot. Like a windblown sailor dancing along the foretop spars, she finally found her footing, steadying herself and the tray with a happy small sigh of relief and accomplishment.
But oh, what peril still awaited her next, more wrenching and hazardous than a thousand falls and stumbles combined!
“Are you unharmed, miss?” he asked, his voice rich with his concern. “Not injured, I trust?”
Mary looked up from the coffeepot, and tumbled again, this time into the endless green pools that were the gentleman’s eyes. Struck dumb, she could only nod in wordless agreement to his query, and marvel all the more at his face and person.
He was neither so beautifully perfect as to be an Adonis, nor of such a warrior’s sturdy physique as to qualify as another Hercules. Yet the young gentleman who stood before her possessed more charm and masculine grace than any other of his sex that she ever had known. Perhaps twenty years in age, he was tall and well made, his shoulders broad and his belly flat, and Mary could not help but marvel at how well muscled his legs and chest appeared to be, such as is the case in gentlemen much given to riding. He was dressed with sober elegance, in a dark gray superfine suit of clothes that only served to accentuate the sea green of his eyes, and he wore his own hair instead of a London gentleman’s fashionable wig, his gilded curls tied with a black silk ribbon and becoming nonchalance at his nape.
“You are certain you’re unharmed?” he asked with the sincerest concern. “Quite well?”
Once again Mary nodded. Mr. Lyon—for so, of course, it was he—smiled, a single dimple lighting his cheek, and the poor smitten girl felt herself sway beneath its charming beacon. He sensed her weakness and seized the tray from her to place it on the table behind him. Then with great gentleness, he took her arm and guided her to a nearby settee, conveniently placed beside a tall arched window.
“There,” he said, joining her. “Now breathe deeply, and collect yourself.”
Mary closed her eyes and leaned towards the open window, breathing deeply as he’d instructed her. When at last she felt more restored, she opened her eyes, only to realize those same breezes had mischievously disordered the kerchief around her neck, and her breasts, scarce contained by the sturdy barriers of her stays and her bodice, now lay impudently bare before him. Beside her, Mr. Lyon’s eyes were wide at such an unconscionably brazen sight, his lips pressed together so tightly Mary feared he’d forgotten to breathe as well.
“Oh—oh, sir, please, forgive me,” she stammered as she fumbled to restore her scattered modesty. “I’d no wish to be so bold, especially before a gentleman of the church!”
“Not yet, my dear, not yet,” he said, raising his gaze with effort back to her face. “To serve Our Lord is my greatest hope, true, but I’ve still much more study before I make my final choice.”
“Indeed, sir,” she said. “I’ve heard her ladyship has complete confidence in your gifts.”
“Her ladyship is most kind,” he said, touching his forehead with humble respect. “I can only hope to approach the regard she has for me.”
She smiled shyly. “I’m sure she’s every reason to admire your abilities, sir.”
“Her ladyship is most generous in her praise.” He shrugged with that self-deprecatory charm that is so rare in handsome men. “But here, perhaps you can help me.”
Mary nodded eagerly, too ready, alas, to oblige him in all things.
“I need an audience, you see,” he began. “Someone who’ll listen, and criticize my work where it’s lacking so I might improve it.”
“Oh, sir,” she said sadly, “I’m but the lowest scullery maid, sir, and unschooled in literary matters as that.”
“Nonsense,” he declared. “Even a hermit in a cave has taste of one sort or another. You’ll do better than any Cambridge don. I’m sure of it. What name does your cook call you by?”
“I’m Mary, sir,” she said, flushing again beneath his attention. “Mary Wren, sir.”
“And I am John Lyon, your servant, Miss Mary Wren.” He grinned and winked, as if to show he understood how foolish and teasing a statement that was to make to one who was in fact a servant.
“Yes, Mr. Lyon.” She laughed with delight, for she’d never been called “Miss Wren” in all her life. How pleasing it sounded to her ears, and how especially sweet for being in his voice!
He laughed with her. “How vastly agreeable you are, Miss Mary Wren. How could I ask for a finer audience?”