Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Berkshire Correspondence Part 2

For your reading entertainment, I present to you: part two of Edith Bellamy's The Berkshire Correspondence.  Enjoy


[Editor's Note: The following two legal documents, cracked and yellowed, were found in the bottom of the Fortson's Biscuits tin, under the ribbon-bound packet of letters that comprise Part One of this History]

For those who have not read Part I, here is a brief cast of the principal characters thus far introduced in the corrspondence:

Sophie Crenshaw: The nineteen year old wife of Charles Crenshaw, of Brackenheath, Basingsford, Berks.

Charles Crenshaw: Former lord of Brackenheath Manor. Transformed by a Javanese potion, known as warrior's tears, into Clarissa Evans

Clarissa Evans: The transformed Charles Crenshaw, now a stunning, violet-eyed beauty.

Amelia Poindexter (Lady Lovelle): Sophie Crenshaw's aunt and widow of Lord Lovelle. Has houses in London and Folkestone.

Molly Crispin: Orphan. A Leonardo-like genius, raised by Lady Lovelle from childhood. Prefers wearing male garb and calls herself Quentin Crispin when en homme. Is Lady Lovell's lover.

William Crispin: Molly's twin brother; footman to Lady Lovelle

Thomas Tupworthy: Charles Crenshaw's valet; now overseer of Brackenheath Manor since his master's transformation

Simon Musgrove: Brilliant, Oxford-educated botanist who brought back to England thirty vials of warrior's tears from Java after a three-year voyage on The Discovery.

Letter XXIII: From Sophie Crenshaw to Amelia Poindexter (Lady Lovelle), her Aunt.

Brackenheath, Basingsford, Berks., Tuesday, 3rd October, 1732

Mr. Dearest Aunt,

To-day I received a letter from my solicitors, Boorum & Tate, apprising me that the Coroner's Inquest has been held, finding that Charles died by drowning. The coronor also drew up a death-certificate, as you predicted. Enoch Ratliffe, who I presume is the disreputable cousin who plies the River with his grappling iron, has been paid twenty guineas reward.

Enclosed with the letter was the deed to Brackenheath Manor, in my name, assigning me all its rents, mortgages, annuities and revenues — also as you predicted. So, every thing has come to pass just as you said: Charles Crenshaw has been punished, I am avenged, I am one of the wealthiest women in Berkshire. Yet I am unhappy, aunt, for the one thing you did not predict was Clarissa, and that I should fall in love with her! I can not keep my mind off her, and yearn for some news. Have you received any communication from Molly? Will you let me know the instant you do?

Meanwhile, I am busying my self going over the farm accounts with Thomas; he has done a better job than old Crutchfield. We dismissed Waters & Harrington, our old corn-factor, and have hired a new firm that employs honest measures. Our grain-harvest this season brought in almost £1,000!

But my existence is flat, featureless, without colour or joy. I have no will to write further.

Pity me, and send me news when you have any.

Your loving niece,

Sophie Crenshaw

Letter XXIV: Amelia Poindexter (Lady Lovelle) to Sophie Crenshaw

Hanover Square, London Thursday, 5th October 1732

Dearest Sophie,

I quite understand your desolation, dear niece, and can only entreat you to be patient. You shall get your Clarissa back, or I do not know my Molly!

Do you imagine that I am not distraught that Molly has run off and left me? I, too, am lonely, yet I am willing to await the outcome. I am most eager to see what Molly will make of Clarissa. I thirst for news of the two as much as you do, and shall let you know directly I hear any thing.

Pray come up to Hanover Square for a month or two, Sophie. I will introduce you every where! The diversions of the London season will help banish our mutual melancholy.

Your loving aunt,

Amelia Poindexter (Lady Lovelle)

Letter XXV: From Molly Crispin to Amelia Poindexter (Lady Lovelle).

Villa Aurelia, Rome, Monday, 9th October, 1732

My Dearest Amy,

I do hope this letter makes it through the Brenner Pass before the snows, else you shall not get it 'til spring-time! However, I have been told that the Dolomites have been balmy all season, so it should reach you in little more than a fortnight unless there are contrary winds in the Channel.

I have taken the Villa Aurelia for the month. It is a magnificent 13th century estate on the western slope of the Viminale Hill, with a stunning view of the city. The gardens are perfectly manicured, their myriad little love-arbours and trysting-places adorned with statuary of cupids, nymphs and satyrs enough to suit any one's amourous mood. It was built by Cardianal Giovanni della Scrofa for his mistress Clara Petacci, but he never occupied it, for he was elected Pope Innocent VIII before its completion, so he remodelled the Vatican Apartments for Signorina Petacci instead. One must admire the sheer brass of the Medieval Church, Amy! If only English clerics had the balls of the Roman priesthood... Ah, but then we'd all be in danger at home, would we not?

I am penning this letter in the Tempietto di Venere, one of those self-same delightful little love-arbours, all set about with wood-nymphs of pink Travertine marble in various states of modest undress. It is late afternoon, and the sun, tho' low in the west, is still hot. Clarissa, nude and prone, is lying before me in its rays, gazing out over the city through half-closed eyes. It is near supper-time; the cooking-smoke arising from the fifty thousand chimneys of Rome wends lazily upwards in fine golden spirals, whilst the Tiber, nearly dry from the long summer, twists like a silver wire through the ochre-coloured city. On the river's far bank the great basilica of St. Peter's stands, like a perfect architect's miniature model, sunlight glinting off its gilded dome, its double row of columns embracing the vast, glowing piazza with its pagan obelisk dead centre — as phallic as the Papacy itself. Clarissa's broad bottom is my writing-desk. As she lies, face-down on her plump folded arms, she has obligingly held up one hand to steady my ink-stand, which, she promises, she will not spill this time, whilst with her other she steadies my goblet of Frascati, itself refracting the slanting rays of the sun with the splendour of an enormous ruby.

Villa Aurelia, on the Viminale Hill

I am Quentin to-day (as I have been most days since our departure from Brackenheath), and therefore I am properly dressed, as a gentleman should be whilst his wanton mistress basks in the sun-light. You know, Amy, how much I relish the feeling of power that comes from being fully-clothed whilst my lover is so vulnerably naked. And Clarissa has proven a remarkable lover, indeed. When Sophie next has her in bed, she will be no less than amazed at what I have taught her, and at how well she has learnt it!

Clarissa is now fully trained in the art of the dildoe — both to give and to receive — and has become adept with each one in my collection, her own favourite being the long, thin one of polished walrus-ivory I got in Oslo, the same one you fancy, Amy. I have added to my collection here in Rome, finding the Roman ones somewhat stouter than either the French or the Spanish, and with a subtle ridge at the crown that gives a delicious twinge upon withdrawal. I believe you will come to like the obsidian one I bought for you (Clarissa does!), tho' it must be left in warm water a goodly while, else it is shockingly cold.

Now here's some real news: Clarissa is with child! Hardly surprizing, given her little intermezzo with Thomas. How do I know it ? Clarissa has never once bled since her creation, is now ill in the mornings, complains of sore breasts (they are fuller than ever), has developed a linea negra from her navel downwards, like the seam on a bean, and her pudenda have assumed a brownish colour. In all, being with child has made her lovelier than ever. The poor girl has, as yet, no idea: she atttributes her morning illness to a change in the water, and the engorgement of her breasts to the Roman diet. But by late morning each day she is radiant — bouncing and ready for the day's Grand Tour. To-day, we visited the Pantheon and Trajan's Column. We passed by Salvi's new fountain, the Trevi, as yet incomplete, but what there was of it was breath-taking, tho' it lacks the expansive setting of Bernini's fountains in the Piazza Navona.

By late afternoon, Clarissa is always ready for love, as am I, so I indulge her, of course. We are interrupted only by a light supper of bread rubbed with salt and oregano, with a carafe or three of Frascati, and then we resume our amourous attentions until the small hours. Last night, as it was sultry, we disported together under the Roman sky, studded with so many stars that one could read by them. I wore a dress for the occasion (at least to begin with), and Clarissa would have dress'd in Quentin's clothes (for she wanted to), but she is rather too broad in the hips. I demanded this time that Clarissa strip me, then we assayed my newest Roman acquisition, an unusual double-ended, tandem dildoe of alabaster, attributed to Benvenuto Cellini, that was said to have been the nuns' favourite at the Convento di Sant'Angela Maggiore until it burned a century ago, after which the precious relic could never be found. And now I have it, Amy, for a few paltry pounds sterling, from an antiquities "dealer" in the Via dei Orsini!

At least a dozen generations of pious nuns were, no doubt, beatified nightly, after evening devotions, with this lovely alabaster intrument, tho' it requires the skill and timing of a dancer (or, better said, two dancers), to achieve full effect — without injury. Clarissa, however, was up to the challenge, so we managed to bring ourselves off at the same instant, under the sparkling canopy of an early autumnal meteor-shower. Being with child seems to spur Clarissa's performance on to ever-greater heights, at least for the present, and that, of course, urges me on as well. If it did not take being with a man, Amy, I should not mind getting with child myself, for the experience, if nothing else.... But do not fret, my precious one — when I return I shall teach you this particular dance, too. It will keep you limber, I promise, at the least. And perhaps we may persuade Clarissa to dance it with you.

But, La! The naughty Clarissa has just now tipped over my ink-stand after all and will have to be spanked! There is just enough ink left in my quill to bid you farewell and to send you my kisses (and my love to Sophie as well), from, your own, faithful (do not fear!),


Letter XXVI: Amelia Poindexter (Lady Lovelle) to Sophie Crenshaw

Hanover Square, London Wednesday, 25th October 1732

Dearest Sophie,

I must be brief, as my carriage is waiting to take me to the opera.

I have heard from Molly at last! She and Clarissa are in Rome, of all places. Molly has let an elegant villa on one of Rome's hills. They spend their days seeing the sights, and their nights ..... well, let me say only that Molly is training Clarissa for you, my dear. It is quite likely that she shall become your teacher in love, and you the pupil, after Molly is done with her.

You will be interested to learn that Molly thinks Clarissa is with child! (Molly in rarely wrong in such matters), which means that her confinement shall be sometime next May, if all goes well. This means that you will see them well before that, since Molly would not ever expect Clarissa to travel when she is advanced. My guess is that they shall return by February at the latest, which is barely more than three months distant.

Thus you have an end to your suffering no so very far off.

I really must insist that you come up to Hanover Square, Sophie! Leave all Brackenheath's affairs in Thomas's competent hands and come keep me company!

I am, as ever, your constant, loving aunt, &c. &c.,

Amelia Poindexter (Lady Lovelle)

Letter XXVII: From Molly Crispin to Amelia Poindexter (Lady Lovelle).

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, Tuesday, 7th November, 1732

The weather turned cool in Rome, so Clarissa and I have chased the sun south to Ravello, where I have taken the Villa Cimbrone, perched high on the edge of a rocky precipice over looking the Mediterranean Sea. The fishing-boats far below seem as small as sparkling water-beetles from this height, the waves as fine as fingernail parings. But, the main thing is — the sun's rays are still warm, almost hot, as I recline here on the Belvedere in my chaise longue, with Clarissa, in hers, right beside me like a recumbent Grecian sculpture. Really, Amy, I have never seen a woman more addicted to nudity than Clarissa, who seems to strip off her clothes at the slightest excuse, always delighted to exhibit her self, an interesting, if occasionally embarrassing holdover effect of the warrior's tears.

View from Villa Cimbrone, looking East towards Minori and Maiori

Here is an amusing anecdote in that regard, Amy. On our last evening in Rome, we were entertained by the English Ambassador, Sir Edward Fairchild, at the new Embassy in the Corso dei Gracchi. Teddy and I shared rooms in Cambridge one term; I mentioned him to you just last year, if you recall, when he appeared on the Honors List and was knighted. When Teddy heard that his old Pembroke College chum Quentin Crispin was in Rome, he decided to throw a ball for the whole expatriate English community. It was a glittering affair, with perhaps an hundred guests, a twenty-piece orchestra and gold plate at table. Clarissa was with me, of course, absolutely ravishing in her low-cut white gown of white silk, split down the skirt-front to show off her outer-petticoat of cascading, powder blue ruffles, a diamond tiara in her jet hair and a matching pendant round her neck. Her flounced gown was floor-length, so her slippers did not show: when she walked about, it was as if she were a ship of state sailing smoothly through placid waters. The men could hardly keep their eyes off her, as you can well imagine. Nor could I.

Well, one of these men happened to be none other than the famous portraitist, old Sir Andrew Wells. Sir Andrew is spending the winter in Rome to study the lighting of Titian, many of whose works hang in the Vatican Galleries. When he clapped eyes on Clarissa, his jaw dropped. "Why," Sir Andrew cried, "But for the colour of her hair, this beauty could be the double of Titian's 'Venus of Urbino'! I entreat you, my dear young lady, to sit for me to-morrow!"

Before I could deflect the danger and reply that we were leaving Rome first thing next morning, Clarissa, already tipsy, retorted, with a tone of prideful umbrage, "I do beg your pardon, Sir Andrew, but I simply can not agree with you! I look nothing like the 'Venus of Urbino,' for Quentin and I saw her, hanging in the Uffizi, when we sojourned in Florence on our way down to Rome. Not only is she fair-haired, but she is sorrily flat-chested as well! And every one knows that the model was the Duke of Urbino's wife, a notable trollop, and that Titian augmented her by way of flattering the Duke, thereby augmenting his commission as well. I demand to settle the issue at once, if you care to step into the conservatory here, and if you are, in addition, willing to wager five pounds on the outcome..." Clarissa gestured vaguely towards the doorway leading to the Embassy's conservatory. "We have a panel of judges already assembled," she continued, indicating with a negligent flip of her little hand the crowd of men that had by now gathered about us. It was clear that Clarissa had had a bit too much of the Embassy's excellent claret, (as had most every one else), for she was slurring her "S's," a sure sign that she had become both unpredictable and mulish, an incendiary mixture of qualities brought on by the least amount of spirits, for which she has not the slightest tolerance. When Clarissa is in her cups, Amy, there is no stopping her! That is one of the thing I love most about her, and why I ply her with drink not infrequently. One cup is often enough.

Sir Andrew's eyes bulged from his head at Clarissa's suggestion, whilst a ripple of amazed whispers fluttered through the group whom Clarissa had just promoted to be expert judges in a matter of no little interest to any virile male.

I silenced the murmurs by remarking, "You must understand, Sir Andrew, that for Clarissa the amplitude of her d√©colletage is a matter of honour: implying she is somehow deficient is like calling a man a coward in public. Now that you have let the cat out of the bag, the question must be settled directly. As we are departing Rome to-morrow, Clarissa shall unfortunately not have time for a formal sitting to display her self. However," and I turned to the ambassador and bowed, "I am certain Teddy, here, can produce easel, paper and charcoal, and, whilst Clarissa proves her point, as it were, (for I can assure you, Sir Andrew, she is correct in her assertion), you shall at least have the opportunity of sketching her — for a sitting fee of five pounds sterling. Are you willing, Clarissa?" I asked, withdrawing a five-pound note from my purse and placing it in Teddy's hand as good faith for the wager.

Clarissa raised her chin haughtily, and sniffed with disdain by way of reply, whilst I turned to Sir Andrew with an inquiring look, my hands outspread. The elderly portraitist, turning so red that I thought he would burst a brain-vessel and collapse on the spot, could only sputter, "But.... but.... I was merely....the resemblance is remarkable.... I meant not to cast any aspersion."

"Come, come, Wells, take the wager! What's five pounds?" urged one of the on-lookers. "Yes, Wells, we've all seen the 'Venus of Urbino,' and we're keen to judge this comparison," urged another. "The young lady will call you out if you do not agree, and she seems to have rather sharp nails," added a third.

Mumbling that his only interest was artistic, Sir Andrew nonetheless withdrew a five-pound note from his purse and passed it to Teddy, thereby sealing the wager and eliciting murmurs of approbation from the rump panel of experts, one of whom handed Teddy a purseful of guineas to up the stakes, making it clear that they'd be Clarissa's if she prevailed.

"Well?" demanded Clarissa, "Am I to endure this slur on my beauty, or shall I be given opportunity to vindicate my self?"

"Well?" I repeated, turning towards Teddy, "The issue seems to depend upon whether you have sketching articles to hand." I well knew that Clarissa was determined to expose her self no matter what; it seemed the most prudent course, under the circumstances, was to paper over the affair with the respectability of Art.

"Of course I have easel and charcoal," cried Teddy, taking his cue, "And as it's all in the name of Fine Art, and as we are all disinterested conoisseurs, I see nothing improper whatever in settling this, um, intriguing wager in the conservatory as the young lady has suggested....." Teddy promptly dispatched a servant in quest of the items required, whilst Clarissa, already reaching behind her back, began unfastening her buttons and hooks even as she floated towards the Conservatory doors, now like a ship of the line under full sail. The crowd of men, which numbered about five-and-twenty, exchanged incredulous glances, looked over their shoulders towards their women at the far end of the room, then followed Clarissa, jostling one another in a subdued sort of a rush — too slow to be considered unseemly, but quite fast enough to ensure they'd get a prime position for viewing.

[Editor's Note: For the edification of readers not acquainted with the sumptuously erotic nudes of Titian, "The Venus of Urbino" is reproduced below Whether she is, in fact, small-breasted is up to each reader to decide.]

As the conservatory was rather small, the group barely fit in. Just as I was closing the doors, the servant rushed up with easel, paper and a box of sketching-charcoals, which I took from him, then closed the doors and turned the key in the lock. I cleared a space for the easel and motioned to one of the bystanders to draw up a chair for Sir Andrew. Whilst the portraitist pinned up his paper and set out his charcoals on a little occasional table, Clarissa, her jaw set in feminine determination, began to drag the harpsichord bench to an advantageous position at the end of the room. Several of the company sprang to her assistance, positioned the bench, and handed her up, as she mounted it daintily.

Her chin raised defiantly, and without the faintest hint of a blush, Clarissa deftly stripped before the assembled company, eliciting gasps as she drew off her final under-shift and stepped out of her pantelettes, wearing nothing but her diamond tiara and pendant. She assumed an artistically modest pose (or as modest a pose as a dazzling young woman can assume when exhibiting herself stark naked before five-and-twenty strange men), her discarded soft and luminous garments making a fluffy mound at her feet, like the sea-foam from which Venus must have arisen. Then she altered her stance, so as to thrust forward her sumptuous breasts, all the more luscious, of course, because of Her Condition, which was just beginning to show that very week, adding further to her voluptuousness. Since I was standing off to the side, I could see that the men did not know where to look first! Nor was Sir Andrew sketching — he was gawking, mouth agape like a grouper, like all the rest (including Teddy). I must say, Amy, that I was overwhelmed with pride that I possessed such a prize, whilst all the gawkers could only imagine what it might be like to possess her. I could not but help noticing that some britches were bulging.

"Well, then! Who wins the five pounds, me or this painter here?" Clarissa bluntly demanded, surveying the assembly of panting admirers and lifting her breasts with her hands in crushing refutation of poor old Sir Andrew's unintentional slur on her female endowments.

"I think a show of hands is hardly needed, gentlemen," Teddy declared, as he placed the two five-pound notes and the purseful of guineas, into my outstretched hand. "And now, Sir Andrew," Teddy continued, "even though the young lady in no way resembles the 'Venus of Urbino' in respect of what was wagered, are you still willing to sketch her?"

Acclamations arose: "Are you daft, Fairchild?" "What are you waiting for, Wells?" "What a fool question, Fairchild, of course he wants to sketch her!" "Hear, hear!" "Get on with it, Wells, but do take your time!"... and so forth. Clarissa was in her element, as she adores being admired, by men as well as by women, and she would have stood patiently for hours, as long as she had an audience.

After a bit of harrumphing, Sir Andrew proceeded to execute a tolerably good sketch, tho' his hand was trembling the while, and he had to pull out his handkerchief to wipe his brow several times. At last, he undid the pins and pulled the sketch off the easel with a flourish, stood, turned and held it aloft for the judges, who gave it only the most cursory of glances, for whilst the original was still present before them in all her glorious nudity, the charcoal counterfeit held but little attraction.

"That will be all, gentlemen! Clarissa thanks you for your favourable verdict!" I cried, unlocking the doors and throwing them wide. "Please leave the young lady to arrange herself!" I continued, ushering them out into the ball-room in a compact herd, each one looking back over his shoulder so assiduously that he stumbled upon his fellows in leaving the room. I remained inside with Clarissa to help her with her laces and stays, reprimanding her the while about the grave social impropriety of disrobing at an Embassy function. Clarissa was, however, unrepentant, exclaiming that she had never been so insulted in her life, and would do the very same again at the drop of a hat. And, of course, Amy, she would, for Clarissa is the pure, unrefined force of femininity, barely suppressed when sober, and utterly out of control after two cups of wine.

But now Clarissa is stirring on her chaise longue; and grasping at my hand, for she desires my special attentions whilst the sun is still warm, and I dare not disappoint her. So I shall end here, Dearest Amy, and seal this letter with a kiss, and with a promise that I shall return to you before three months are up.

I am, as ever, your faithful and loving, &c., &c.,


P.S.: And, of course, please kiss Sophie for me and reassure her, once again, that Clarissa shall be hers in the end. With just a few months further training, our Clarissa will love any woman I command her to, and it has always been my intention to return her to Sophie in better a state than I took her, tho' I can not deny I shall sorely miss having her as my love-pupil. I am counting on your nine remaining phials of warrior's tears, Dearest Amy, to provide fresh diversions — for both of us — over the next two decades, at least! I must say, Charles Crenshaw is turning out far better than I had expected, a tribute to Dea's infinite power. But Clarissa is pouting — I must attend to her whilst the sun is still warm — and she is still hot.

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