This is my apology for a proper author’s preface. A few weeks ago I posted the final chapter of a short novel which was a writing experiment. It proved to be quite popular, I think (thank you to all my new followers) but I hesitate to impose a new book on my long-suffering readers, so I rely on you to tell me honestly if a second serial is a good idea.
‘Nowhere Lane’ is somewhat of a contrast to my previous attempt, and it is different, too, in that a synopsis has lurked on my hard drive for a year or so. There are elements, even whole passages here that are pre-planned, but the hard writing still has to be done, which will offer plenty of opportunities for trouble!
Oh, and one more thing. The subject matter could best be described as ‘edgy’ and the work may contain parts that will be rather more explicit than you are accustomed to reading in this blog. Please let me know your margins, and tell me if I offend.
So, here goes!
Chapter One. To Begin at the Very Beginning…
The Honorable Mary Brocklehurst was a delicate child, with the pale beauty and graceful carriage of a swan. Beneath her silkily groomed and bobbed sable hair was a fashionably long, arched neck, the consequence of elegant bone structure that could only be acquired by centuries of refinement. Her eyes were a misted blue, her chin narrow but determined, her breasts small and her hips a gynaecologist’s nightmare, but in the terms of her time, she was desirable. Coiffured and self-assured, the picture she presented to her mirror as her final wedding dress adjustments were made was one of classic perfection. She was to be an autumn bride, a spectral wisp amongst leaves of amber and red, prepared like a white ghost to stand before the altar beside a peer of the realm who was to be her husband, with an earl to give her away.
The dress was her mother’s decision. Lady Hortense Brocklehurst had steered her daughter through her debutante season. She had impeccable taste. The contemporary dropped-waist style suited Mary’s wand-like figure, but with a hemline that must be modest. Although Mary was a determined flapper, and her groom no less dedicated to nineteen twenties society living, their union would be a dignified, stately affair befitting two titled families. Money was marrying money; the dress must observe and reflect great British traditions. Her father, Viscount Brocklehurst of Saul demanded it; a guest list of a thousand expected it, and the mother could be confident the daughter would deliver.
Mary was not vain. Growing up in a large household with two brothers, educated in one of the country’s best boarding schools, finished in a prestigious college in Berne, she carried self-image as her due and did not dwell upon her own reflection once the women who were helping her had withdrawn. She stripped the expensive silk from her body with practised ease, then throwing on a housecoat as she withdrew to her bedroom, she gave the tassel of the servants’ bell an impatient tug.
“Yes, Miss?” Florence had taken almost ten minutes to appear. Mary glared at her.
“I’m simply gasping for a drink. Would you bring me a decanter of dry sherry, Flo? Oh, and have you seen this month’s Cinemagazine? I distinctly remember leaving it here, on the table?”
“No Miss. Although…” Florence bit her lip.
“I shouldn’t tell tales, Miss, but I think I saw your magazine in Master Clive’s room this morning.” Florence gave her mistress a knowing look. “I’ll bring your tray, Miss.”
For all the promise of her upcoming nuptials, Mary was in a sombre mood. She often found herself tasked with filling long hours when no-one called upon her, and the sun stubbornly refused to set. Her parents were dutiful rather than attentive. Her husband-to-be visited in his Prince Henry motor perhaps twice a week, and there were always parties. For the stultifying social deprivation in between, although Mummy would not have approved, alcohol was one valuable adjunct. Reading magazines was another. This afternoon, thanks, she was sure, to her younger brother Clive’s kleptomania, she lacked the latter. Not that there was a dearth of periodicals she could read, but the particular one she wanted to read was in Clive’s possession.
For an hour she wandered about her room with a sherry glass never far from her hand. She rehearsed dance steps, hummed the tunes of evening to herself, sighed at the window and fussed with the pile of journals on her table; she flicked through pages, scanned sketches. It was a lubricious hour, and the lubricant did nothing to mollify her temper: she wanted her favourite journal; it was not here, where it should be.
At last, when the resources in the decanter were well reduced, her irritation with her brother reached heights that could be contained no more. Clive might bring the magazine back, at his own convenience, but she wanted it now. Riding upon the thundercloud of her anger and slightly aided by a breeze of imbibed alcohol, she floated along the length of carpeted landing that separated the family bedrooms to her brother’s door. The carpet was to blame – her bare feet were to blame. Clive did not hear her approach. He did not even hear her as she gently opened the door. And then it was too late.
“Oh, no! Oh, my gracious heavens, what are you doing?” Mary exclaimed.
Clive was lying on his bed, face down. Mary’s magazine was propped open on his pillow at a page featuring a photo-print of a contemporary film star, Pola Negri. Clive’s body was caught in rhythmical movement. It froze. Clive froze. Clive emitted a squeal like a startled pig.
“Get out, Sis!” He spluttered, reaching for modesty in the form of a bed sheet that was rucked at the bottom of his bed and exposing, in doing so, rather more of himself than he would have liked.
Mary chuckled. “Oh, vile! Just vile! Whatever is that?” In truth, the best all-girls’ school education had instilled a certain amount of worldliness in Mary. As pure a virgin as she might have been, she knew very well what ‘that’ was, even if she had only seen artists’ impressions of a rampant example until now, but she was of a mood to play the outraged innocent. “For goodness sake, worm, will you please stop rubbing yourself?”
“I’m not,” Clive muttered.
“Yes you are! It’s utterly disgusting! Especially over pictures of that woman, you ghastly little monster. She’s scarcely a model of propriety, is she? And that’s my magazine! How on earth can you get yourself so – so excited about that?”
“Well I think she’s awfully attractive, if you must make a thing out of it. Don’t you have the manners to knock? Leave me alone.” Humiliated, Clive made a further attempt at reaching the bed sheet, turning the other way this time, so he presented his sister with a glimpse of his buttock cheeks to feast her eyes upon. He did look surprisingly muscular for such a little wimp, Mary acknowledged to herself; that backside would probably appear quite wholesome to a less jaundiced eye. The sheet retrieved and his respectability restored, Clive managed to muster up some bravado. “We all do it, us chaps. The dorm’s positively heaving some nights.”
A fit of giggling caused by Clive’s turn of phrase required determined suppression. “That is not an excuse!”
“It is mine.”
“Don’t be so silly! Awful things happen to you if you do that …that sort of thing.” Mary’s initial outrage gone, curiosity took its place. For all the new freedoms the nineteen twenties bestowed upon women, a girl of her background was still presumed to be sexually naïve until after her marriage. Yet she had certain feelings, and some qualms – her intended husband was neither gentle nor patient. She dared not ask about such issues in the stilted drawing-room world her parents inhabited. She was not immune – nor, apparently, was Clive.
“That’s utter rubbish, Mare, it really is! Just because you haven’t…”
“Don’t you DARE!” Mary interrupted him hotly. A rush of beetroot red flew to her cheeks, an anger that made her head threaten to spin. “I will not discuss my…my private affairs…with you!”
“You could always leave – now. And if you’re so repulsed you could take your eyes off it, couldn’t you? But you don’t want to, do you – leave, I mean?”
Mary began to wish she had taken breakfast that morning. Suddenly unsafe on her feet, she sat heavily beside her brother on his bed. She held out a demanding hand. “Give me back my magazine and I’ll go.”
Clive closed the book and passed it to her. “There!”
Yet she did not leave. Why? Did her dizziness prevent her? Was it the alcohol that whispered in her ear, spoke to her of forbidden, unmentioned things? She slurred: “You don’t know what to do – with a girl, if you’re…you know…with them. Do you?”
The Honorable Clive leered, yet it was not quite a leer. It might even have been a confident smile. “Suppose that I do know?”
“Don’t you practice your cheap seductive moves on me! How could you know! You’ve never done it, and don’t pretend…oh, gosh, not Janine Parker? Did you do it with Janine Parker?”
“A chap should never tell, but since you ask, in her father’s hay barn; last month, when I came back from school. You would have been busy waltzing around the Court of St. James’s at the time.” Clive added, acidly.
“Oh, that must have been awful for her!”
“I think she rather enjoyed it, actually. Frightfully amused!”
“What did you do?”
“How do you mean?”
“Did you put your hand on her knee or something?”
“Oh much, much more than that.” Clive looked at his sister carefully. “You don’t know anything about what happens, do you? I think that must be really dreadful. I mean, you getting married and all that…”
“I most certainly do! I don’t choose to speak of it, that’s all.”
“All right then. What will you do together, you and your chap? Tell me.”
“I choose not to.” Mary knew her face was giving her the lie. She was deeply confused, as she had always been, about what would ensue when the wedding was over and she was left alone with her bridegroom. Worse, she was fairly sure he would be equally clueless. He was clumsy, rather bumbling in the simplest tasks. She had no expectation that a bed would make a difference. The secrets and covert meanings, the knowing looks and sotto voce comments of her friends seemed to allude to some mystical act, but what the nature of ‘it’ finally was remained shrouded in innuendo.
At some stage her housecoat had slipped aside enough to expose some thigh. To her horror she felt Clive’s hand there, stroking her skin. She recoiled.
“Now Sis, don’t be such a prude!” Clive rebuked her. “You need to have a modicum of experience, don’t you? If I do this” – he allowed his hand to slip a little higher; “Not me, of course, but imagine I’m a chap doing it. Imagine I’m St. John, if you like – don’t you get a bit of a rush? Sensations, you know?”
“Sinjon.” Mary corrected him, aware she was shivering and unsure why. “It’s pronounced ‘Sinjon’”
She felt a kind of eagerness that was new to her. Was this what Clive described as a ‘bit of a rush’? St. John’s hand had never strayed higher than her knee.
Clive’s voice was gently persuasive; his lips crept closer to her ear. “And then if a chap – if St. John – should do a little bit of this, don’t that make you wonder what will happen next?” His hand began exploring places nowhere near her knee.
“Oh golly!” Mary said, with rather more of a gasp than she would have liked. “Remove your hand, you little reptile!”
Clive neither answered nor obeyed, She knew, of course, she should push the hand away, but alcohol had made her bold, and her brother seemed so very knowing, so very self-assured. Instead…
“Well?” She asked tentatively.
“I suppose you’re going to insist upon showing me – what happens next, I mean?”
© Frederick Anderson 2018. All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content