© 2010 By C. J. Wells
Disclaimers: See Chapter One. Jean Clouet (1480–1541) was a French-born painter in France during the Renaissance period. Gerard David (1460–1523) was a Dutch painter during the Renaissance period.
Lindsay lay sprawled across the king-sized bed, naked and sweaty as her tongue dug into Rejeanne's saturated vulva and her arms wrapped around the smaller woman's midsection. Rejeanne, lying on top of Lindsay with her head firmly planted between Lindsay's legs, was likewise giving her lover oral sex. As she stroked her lover's clit and lapped up her lover's vaginal secretions, Rejeanne was also vigorously fingering Lindsay's vulva. Sweat from both women doused the down comforter beneath them. The moaning and panting from both were primal in its nature as the scent of the sex in the room battled for dominance with that of the oak and pine needles.
As the first quivers of orgasm were felt by Lindsay, she bent her legs up and grabbed the comforter with her toes. She wrapped her lips around Rejeanne's clit and began sucking it like a straw, a sensation that caused Rejeanne to let out a loud moan of overwhelming passion. Lindsay's orgasm came first as a torrent so strong that her whole body convulsed before collapsing in exhaustion. Rejeanne's orgasm was only seconds later; a sensation that forced her to cry out as the wave of pleasure moved up from her clit to the back of her head. She too collapsed, but garnered enough strength to roll off her lover and flop on the bed beside her. After resuming her normal breathing and heart rate, Rejeanne looked over at her lover's feet and began tickling her toes.
“Stop that,” Lindsay said jovially as she burst into uncontrolled laughter. Just then, there was a knock at the door.
“Oh, shit,” Rejeanne whispered. “Who's there?” she asked.
“It's Gwyneth,” the voice announced behind the door.
Rejeanne quickly threw on her overcoat to answer the door while Lindsay hid under the comforter.
Rejeanne cracked the door open. “Don't mean to disturb,” Gwyneth said. “I have something for you.” She presented a bottle. “Sparkling apple cider from one of our best orchards in Leominster . Compliments.”
“Thanks,” Rejeanne said as she took the wine from the smiling young woman.
After closing the door and inspecting the bottle, Rejeanne turned her attention to Lindsay who was emerging from her hiding spot under the covers. “I think that our little friend Gwyneth is ‘family,'” Rejeanne announced.
“Family?” Lindsay asked.
“You know, ‘in-the-family,' ‘friend-of-Dorothy,' ‘member-of-the-choir,'” Rejeanne responded.
“Oh, you mean, she's a lesbian,” Lindsay said.
“Member of the choir,” Lindsay said as she stood up and headed for the washroom. “That's how Keith terms people in the gay community.”
Rejeanne threw off her scratchy wool coat. “Taking a shower?” she asked Lindsay who nodded in response. “Me too,” Rejeanne continued. “Certainly don't want to meet this British noble-dude reeking of pussy.”
* * * *
As the time neared for their drive to Sir Malcolm's, both women were becoming increasingly nervous. Neither knew what to expect, causing both to anticipate both a mountain of information and nothing at all at the same time. After dressing and placing on her coat, Rejeanne dug into her carry-on bag and pulled out that bag of coffee. “You know,” she started as she turned to Lindsay, who was putting on her coat. “There's still that one joint left. We can share it before heading over to Sir Malcolm's.”
“And where would you propose to smoke that thing, because you certainly can't smoke it in the room?”
“We could go out to the sheep pasture,” Rejeanne replied. “I bet the herd would really appreciate the contact high.”
“No thanks,” Lindsay said disdainfully.
Rejeanne threw the coffee bag back into her carry-on. “Okay,” she said. “But don't be surprised if, after we get back, I slip out tonight and go all lil' bo peep on yo ass.”
Gwyneth was eager to provide the two women directions to Sir Malcolm's estate, Hastings Manor. Their drive took only 10 minutes, where they arrived at a stately home built during the Queen Anne Revival period of the late 1800s. The road leading from the front gate to the house was over three hundred yards, but the house itself, though stately, was not extravagant or garish in its appearance. Apple trees consumed part of the land surrounding the estate, and a small cider mill could be seen from a hilltop a few hundred yards away.
After exiting the vehicle, Lindsay took Rejeanne's hand as both women approached the front door of the home.
“Here we go,” Lindsay whispered to Rejeanne before knocking on the door. Merely a second passed before a middle-aged man wearing a charcoal colored cardigan sweater, a white dress shirt and a gray striped tie answered the door. “Hello,” Lindsay said to the man. “I'm Lindsay Alastair and this is Rejeanne Piscard. We're here to see Sir Malcolm.”
“I'm Paul Pritchard,” the man replied. “We spoke on the phone.” He stepped aside so that the women could enter. After passing from the vestibule into the main hall of the home, both women turned to Paul, who was staring at Rejeanne. “Amazing,” he whispered.
“Excuse me?” Rejeanne said in her discomfort at Paul's staring.
“Please, allow me to escort you to the parlour,” Paul said to both women. “And let me take your coats.”
After removing their coats, the women followed Paul past a stately staircase and down a hallway to a large sitting room. The room had three 19 th Century Australian cedar chairs, an antique glass-top carved coffee table with two matching end tables and a 19 th Century burgundy chaise lounge. As Paul relieved the women of their coats and exited the room, both women were drawn to a large mid-1800s painting portrait of a young blonde-haired woman attired in a luxurious blue silk gown with ribbon trim and lace. The painting portrayed her standing casually next to a chaise lounge that looked identical to the one in the sitting room.
Lindsay and Rejeanne look at one another. “That's Callisto,” Rejeanne whispered.
“And Lady Harry,” Lindsay whispered in reply. “And Heather Courtney.”
“No shit,” Rejeanne propounded. “Her too, for real?”
Both women sat down in one of the cedar chairs and gazed around at the room in silence for a few minutes before an elderly man wearing a navy blue cashmere sweater, a light blue dress shirt and a blue-and-maize-striped tie entered the room. The women immediately stood to address their host, whose eyes widened at the twosome before him. He looked upon Lindsay first and then Rejeanne with amazement before extending his hand.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” he greeted in his aristocratic British accent. “I am Sir Robert Malcolm. Welcome to Hastings Manor.”
Lindsay took Sir Robert's hand and shook it. “I'm Lindsay Alastair,” she announced.
“I'm Rejeanne Piscard,” Rejeanne spoke up as she too shook Sir Robert's hand.
Sir Robert could not keep his eyes off of Rejeanne, which did not go unnoticed by Lindsay. “So, is the likeness to Bronwyn Forbes that uncanny?” she asked him plainly.
“It's not just her likeness to Bronwyn that gives me great pause,” Sir. Robert said cryptically. “Please ladies, be seated. Paul will return shortly with tea.”
Lindsay and Rejeanne returned to their respective chairs next to each other. Sir Robert sat down on the third chair next to Lindsay. The three chairs were positioned in a wide U-shape, thus Sir Robert was practically facing Rejeanne. He returned his attention, however, to Lindsay.
“So,” he began, “Tell me why it is, if you know, that you so greatly favor in appearance a one-time paramour of my Great Aunt Harriet?”
Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other. “Lady Harry and Maggie were lovers?” Lindsay asked.
“Did you not read my book?” Sir Robert asked.
“Uh, no,” Lindsay confessed. “We had been researching Maggie Needham and Bronwyn Forbes. In our online research, there weren't any references to Lady Harry…”
Rejeanne chimed in. “You're probably going to find this hard to believe,” she said. “But we learned about Lady Harry from a friend of mine. We were at her Super Bowl party and she told us about a couple of dreams that she had where she was in the body of someone else… an Ethiopian woman named Alemnesh… and this Alemnesh was in pursuit of the Xena scrolls with Lady Harry and Maggie.
“From there, we did an online research to track down the identity of a wife of an Earl known as Lady Harry,” Lindsay continued. “Our research led us to Lady Harriet Hastings, which ultimately led us to you and your book. I contacted you before attempting to procure a copy, I regret to say.”
“You probably wouldn't have found one anyway,” Sir Robert said. “It's been out of print for over twenty years and was not widely distributed in the States. Nonetheless, you are correct. I find it very difficult to believe that the information about Lady Harry and Maggie was gleaned from a dream about Woizero Alemnesh by someone that you met at an American football game.”
“Oh, no, we didn't meet her at a football game,” Rejeanne responded. “Jo and I have been friends for many years. We were at a party at her house, you see, and, well, I suspected that she might be able to tie some things together because, well, she…”
Lindsay interrupted. “What can we do to gain your trust in the validity of our connection with Lady Harry, Alemnesh and Maggie?”
“Tell me something about any of those ladies that wasn't mentioned in my book,” Sir Robert requested.
“Now, how in the hell are we supposed to do that if we've never read your book?” Rejeanne asked frustratingly.
Lindsay gently grabbed her partner's forearm to calm her. “Okay,” she said to Sir Robert. “I can't tell you much about Lady Harry, other than what we read about her online. I can tell you that that is a painting of her on your wall.” Lindsay said as she pointed to the painting. “Looking at her youthfulness, I want to guess that the painting was done in the early 1850s.”
“Good guess, but a guess nonetheless,” Sir Robert said.
“I know even less about Alemnesh, other than the fact that she spoke fluent Italian,” Lindsay continued. “But I can tell you that Maggie Needham was born in South Carolina in 1831 to a rich slave owner. She was pro-slavery and willing to watch her state secede from the Union until she met Bronwyn Forbes in 1860. She completely switched sides and spied for the Union .”
“All of which is well documented in my book and elsewhere,” Sir Robert said.
“Well, I can also tell you that she fell madly in love with Bronwyn,” Rejeanne spoke up. “Her love was true and real, but it was never consummated.”
Sir Robert's eyebrows rose.
“And Bronwyn was madly in love with her,” Lindsay continued. “She was too afraid to admit it, even when the two of them shared an intimate kiss in a carriage in 1866… even when she left Maggie and never spoke to her again.”
Sir Robert placed his hand over his mouth in amazement. “Oh my God,” he said softly.
Rejeanne smugly folded her arms. “Uh-huh, convinced now?” she asked self-righteously.
“Who told you these things about Maggie and Bronwyn?” Sir Robert asked both women.
“We were both told… in a dreamscape,” Lindsay responded as she took Rejeanne's hand in hers. “We were told things that made us realize that we have profound connections to Maggie and Bronwyn beyond our likenesses to them.”
At that moment, Paul returned with a tray of tea cups, a kettle of hot water, cream, sugar, several tea bags and a plate of freshly baked Eccles cakes. Rejeanne and Lindsay each grabbed a cake and a cup from the tray. “Please allow me,” Paul said, referencing pouring the hot water into the tea cups.
“Thank you,” Lindsay responded. Paul poured her water, and then Rejeanne's water, and then Sir Robert's water before leaving. Rejeanne immediately grabbed an Earl Grey tea bag and dipped it into her water. Lindsay looked over the selection as Rejeanne watched her in amusement.
“Lindsay loves her herbal teas, Sir Robert,” Rejeanne advised jovially, noticing that there was no herbal tea among the selection.
“Well then,” Sir Robert said as he grabbed a tea bag and handed it to Lindsay. “Try this. It's called ‘Nurgül' or ‘soulful light,'” he said. “It's a Turkish yeşilçay.”
“Yeşilçay?” Lindsay asked.
“Green tea,” Sir Robert responded. “I recommend using a light bit of sweetener with it.”
Adding a half a teaspoon of sugar to her tea, Lindsay took a sip and nodded in approval. Sir Robert returned his attention to Rejeanne. “When you are finished with your tea and cake, I have something to show you.”
Some minutes later, the British nobleman escorted the two young women out of the sitting room and down another hallway to a reading room. As the three entered the room, Sir Robert directed the women to an illuminated painting on the wall. Upon seeing the painting, Lindsay's mouth dropped, and tears began to fill Rejeanne's eyes.
“It's Bronny,” Lindsay whispered.
“No, it's not,” Rejeanne said as Sir Robert grabbed her shoulder.
“Do you know who it is?” he asked her.
She looked at Sir Robert and then turned her attention to Lindsay. “Look at the clothing, Lin,” she said. “This is a Renaissance era painting. It's Angela Delia. I'm looking in a mirror at a woman who died almost five hundred years ago.”
“The likeness is uncanny,” Sir Robert said. “I believe now that I have to acknowledge that you two are authentic. Please, sit down.”
He directed the two women to a table in the middle of the reading room, although Rejeanne had a hard time walking away from the painting. She did eventually join her lover, who sat across from Sir Robert at the table. “First, you should know that I never mentioned anything about the unconsummated love between Maggie and, as you called her, Bronny, in my book,” Sir Robert said. “Furthermore, I don't believe that there exists any documented event involving an intimate exchange between the two women, although I do know that one took place.”
“How do you know?” Rejeanne asked.
“Let me tell you a story,” Sir Robert began. “When I was but a lad of eleven, my dearest Aunt Gracie began to tell me tales about a woman she called Auntie Stretch.”
“Stretch was Maggie's nickname,” Lindsay said.
“Yes, it was,” Sir Robert agreed. “Well, this Auntie Stretch was not an aunt by blood, but Gracie loved her as such. Gracie was my mother's eldest sister, you see. Lady Harry was my great-great-grand mother's eldest sister, but alas, she died seven years before Gracie's birth. However, Gracie grew up hearing all about the escapades of her dear great-aunt Harry, mostly from the crackling old southern American woman she knew as Auntie Stretch. Stretch told Gracie that when she moved to England back in the late 1860s, she sought to reunite with a cousin of hers on her father's side of the family that she had met only once twenty years before. That cousin, one Charles Ephraim Needham, was the best friend of Sidney Holkeham Hastings, the Earl of Addington, and the husband of Lady Harriet Hastings.
“Well, when Stretch arrived in England , she learned that Charles was living in Coventry , thus she journey there and reunited with him. She met the Earl only days later, since both Charles and the Earl fancied the fox hunts. Lady Harry was not present at the Hastings residence, Holkeham Manor, when Stretch was introduced to the Earl. She was off gallivanting about in Paris at an art expo at the time. Anyway, Stretch was well received by the Earl and even accompanied the gentlemen on their fox hunts. The Earl was quite amazed at Stretch's precision with the rifle, until she reminded him that she killed her first raccoon at age eight and her first man at age thirty.
“Lady Harry returned from Paris six days hence from Stretch's arrival. She had in her possession three classic works that she had purchased. From the French Renaissance, she had an original Jean Clouet and a Gerard David. But it was the piece from an unknown artist of the Italian Renaissance that was her pride and joy. The painting, a portrait of the Italian woman poet, Angela Delia, was believed to have been commissioned by her benefactor…”
“Marcella Erasmus,” Lindsay interrupted.
Sir Robert's eyes widened. “Yes,” he responded before continuing. “The painting remained in the Erasmus family vaults until the last of the line passed away in the mid 1700s. Lady Harry found the piece in a back corner of some obscure gallery on the rue de Saint Andres and immediately fell in love with it. When she arrived at Holkeham Manor, Lady Harry was introduced to Stretch by Charles. Now ladies, you need to visualize this meeting.”
Sir Robert put his hands together and brought them to his mouth. Lindsay and Rejeanne closed their eyes.
“Picture a refined English woman,” he continued, “tall and slender, dressed in regal attire of the time, with platinum blond hair and intense brown eyes, and picture this woman taking the hand of a taller, mannish, 37-year-old Civil War veteran with brilliant blue eyes and a exquisitely beautiful face… a face exactly like yours, Lindsay… and imagine the reaction that that English woman had to the vision before her.”
Rejeanne smiled with eyes still closed. “Oh, yeah,” she leered. “Smokin."
“Ssh,” Lindsay whispered as she lightheartedly smacked Rejeanne's upper arm.
“Needless to say,” Sir Robert continued as both women opened their eyes, “the attraction was immediate, well, at least on the part of Lady Harry. She insisted that Stretch stay at Holkeham Manor as their guest and spent the next several weeks wooing Stretch with picnic lunches, fox hunts and trips to Birmingham to view Pre-Raphaelite paintings and listen to droning poetry ad nauseam. Lady Harry longed to relocate to Birmingham . She considered it far more appropriate for her aristocratic lifestyle than the quaintness of Coventry .”
“What about the painting of Angela Delia that she purchased?” Rejeanne asked.
“Patience, dear,” Sir Robert responded. “Please allow me to continue. Anyway, whilst Lady Harry was spending so much time in the company of the American, she neglected to tell her maid staff where to hang her new acquisitions. Since the Earl didn't know where she wanted them to be placed, he simply commanded the servants to store them in a walk-in pantry off the kitchen. It wasn't until approximately a month after her arrival home that she finally got around to having the works hung. Stretch offered to help the young female servants to hang the paintings, but before Stretch could even lay eye on the works, Lady Harry insisted the she accompany her to a luncheon at Pickford Green. The women were gone for the better part of the day. When they returned, the two French paintings were in the parlour, while the Italian painting was hung in the very guest room where Stretch was lodging.”
Rejeanne and Lindsay sat up in their seats.
“When Stretch entered her room and saw that painting, she let out a gasp that could be heard throughout the entire home,” Sir Robert continued. “Lady Harry, Earl Sidney and the entire servant staff responded by dashing to Stretch's room. Stretch turned to her hosts and said repeatedly, ‘that's Bronny, that's Bronny.'”
Tears began to well in Lindsay's eyes. “She must have been so overwhelmed,” she said.
“She was,” Sir Robert professed. “And in that same evening, the two women sat together alone in front of the parlour fireplace and bared their souls of lost love. For Stretch, it was Bronwyn Forbes, a woman who stole her heart within the first minutes of their meeting at a secession rally in Charleston . She spoke of a love that was so deep, but so tragic, because Stretch believed it to be totally unrequited. Lady Harry confessed to Stretch that, she too, had been in love with a woman. Harriet was betrothed to the Earl of Addington in 1849, when she was still an adolescent. The portrait in my parlour was painted in 1853, the year that they were married. In 1855, Earl Sidney was part of a group of bureaucrats who ventured to Ethiopia to broker an alliance with Emperor Tewodros II. Lady Harry accompanied her husband on this mission, and while there, met the Ethiopian heiress Woizero Alemnesh Tesfaye. She too had been betrothed and was married to a man she didn't love. The two young women went from inseparable companions to intense lovers.”
“I could totally picture Bahri and Callisto bumpin' uglies,” Rejeanne whispered to Lindsay gleefully, who could only shake her head with a smile.
“When it came time for Earl Sidney to return to England , Lady Harry exposed the affair and demanded to remain in Ethiopia .” Sir Robert said. “It was Woizero Alemnesh who broke off the affair, not because she wanted to, but out of a necessity to help preserve diplomacy during the alliance negotiations and to salvage her place in the aristocracy of her deeply Coptic Orthodox Christian country. Broken hearted, Lady Harry did return to England with her husband, but the relationship with Alemnesh forever changed the dynamics of their marriage. Theirs became a marriage of convenience. When they were still living in London , it was not uncommon in the subsequent years to see Earl Sidney parading about town with a young vixen at his side whilst his wife mingled with the bobbed-hair immigrant Tommies of London 's East End .
“When they settled at Holkeham Manor in 1865, the couple's lifestyle began to reflect the society around them there. Earl Sidney began engaging in the equestrian sports most associated with the noblemen of his ilk. Lady Harry took a fancy to the arts and literature. And they both made a commitment to presenting the façade of a devoted union. Well, until that evening in the parlour with Stretch, of course. It was then, after they both lay bare their attractions to the same gender, that they consummated that passion right there on the floor.”
“Damn, was that in your book?” Rejeanne asked excitedly. “If so, I gotta get me a copy!”
Lindsay shook her head in amusement while Sir Robert cracked a smile for the first time since meeting the women. “You are spirited young lass, my dear,” he said. “And no, although I mentioned the affairs of Lady Harry in my book, I kept the more provocative details of her sex life out of it.”
Lindsay patted the shoulder of the mildly disappointed Rejeanne. “I'm more interested in knowing what happened after Maggie realized the connection between herself and Marcella Erasmus.” Lindsay chimed in.
“Oh, but dear, that didn't happen right away,” Sir Robert confessed. “When Maggie was told of the identity of the woman in the painting, she cast off the woman's likeness to Bronwyn as mere coincidence. The story of Marcella and Angela didn't unfold for Maggie until sometime after her bittersweet return to America in 1879.”
“Why bittersweet?” Rejeanne asked. “Because that was the year Bronny died.”
“Correct, but sweet nonetheless,” Sir Robert explained. “Sweet, because it was also that year that Maggie finally learned that Bronwyn had always been madly in love with her as well. Bronwyn had at long last admitted her love for Maggie in a series of journals that she had written in the last two years of her life. And yes bitter, because Maggie acquired the journals, along with other of Bronny's personal effects, when she arrived back in the States two weeks after Bronny's funeral.”
Sir Robert looked at Lindsay. “Do you have any thoughts as to what provoked Bronny to start frantically chronicling her life when she did?” he asked her.
“Perhaps she knew that her mind was deteriorating from disease, and she wanted to preserve her life story before she lost her memory of it,” Lindsay responded.
“Or perhaps it was in her DNA,” Rejeanne chimed in. “At her core, Bronwyn Forbes was a bard after all.”
“Would you ladies like to see photographs of Maggie and Bronny?” Sir Robert asked.
Lindsay and Rejeanne looked at each other momentarily before turning to Sir Robert and saying an in-unison resounding, “Yes!”
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 21
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