Here is chapter nine of my two-stories-in-one novel, wherein Chris’s granny, back in 1911, has feelings awakened which she never thought she had.
I hope you are enjoying these twin stories. If you would like to begin reading from the beginning, please go to the post Angels in the Family in the January archive and read each successive post on from there.
Chapter 9: the journal
13th January, 1911
Perhaps I’m imagining it. Yes, I’m sure I must be. But less than two weeks into a new year, something a little strange does, vaguely, seem to be happening. Something between Dr. Pascal and I. I’ve said before that he seems to pay me more than polite attention during lectures. More than my fair share, at least. When he addresses we students, his eyes do seem to fall and settle on me to a rather disproportionate degree. I really don’t know why though. There’s nothing remarkable about my face, surely? It’s a very ordinary one, I’m sure. And I’m only a lowly nurse; hardly on the same social level as he, so why should he find me so interesting? I feel almost a little guilty that I’m monopolising his attention. I don’t want to be singled out for special consideration.
And when he asks us for comments, (to check on whether we are absorbing what he’s telling us, I imagine!) he often seems to invite me to do so with his eyes, first. It’s a little unsettling, I must admit. But yes; perhaps I am simply letting my imagination run away with me.
20th January, 1911
I’m beginning to think that it isn’t imagination at all. Well, you can’t imagine feelings, can you? He’s continued to look at me in that strange, slightly disconcerting way. And then last evening, at the close of the lecture, as we were filing out, he caught my eye again (he’d been doing so throughout the session) and made what I took to be a slight gesture with his hands to stay. So I paused, and he came towards me, and stood and shuffled his feet, and now he wasn’t looking directly at me but down at the floor, as if embarrassed. Then he said, to my astonishment, the words coming out in rather a rush, “Erm, Miss Farley, I was wondering if you would care to come to a café with me, to take tea, or possibly coffee? Er, unless you have other plans, of course?”
Well, I was completely bowled over! No gentleman has ever made such an invitation. I must have blushed violently (it certainly felt as though I was doing, at least). I was certainly completely dumbstruck by the unexpectedness of it. When I eventually managed to regain the power of speech, I could only stammer, “Er, yes, that would be very nice, thank you. No, I’ve nothing else planned, except to go to my room and read a book, or something dull like that.”
He exhaled a rather obvious sigh of what I assumed was relief. “Oh, splendid!” he said.
But then doubts crept in. “But it isn’t allowed, really, socialising with gentlemen. Miss Cavell would strongly disapprove. I would be in serious trouble if she found out.”
He smiled. “Well, there’s no reason why she should, is there? And this is not a nunnery after all. You haven’t taken Holy Orders, have you?”
“Well, no,” I said, weakening. His invitation was very tempting.
“Excellent,” he said, sounding relieved again. “Well we’ll walk into town, where we won’t be spotted. Your reputation won’t be threatened, I promise!”
And so I fetched my coat and hat and we (I with nerves slightly jangling, I must confess) walked to the city centre, and found a quiet café on the Rue des Chartreaux. It was small and there were few people patronising it on that cold, dark winter’s evening, but with its fashionable Art Nouveaux decor and subdued lighting (it did not appear to have discovered the benefits of electricity yet) and somewhat smoky “Bohemian” atmosphere, it was charming, cosy and intimate. It was certainly a novel experience for me, at least.
We hung our coats on the stand by the curtained door and found a small circular moulded-iron table. A waitress appeared, looking, judging by her expression, grateful for a little custom. Dr. Pascal asked me what I would like to drink. I would normally perhaps have chosen chocolate, as the Belgians are such good chocolatiers, but opted for coffee, as I thought that he would probably choose that and I didn’t want to appear completely naive and unsophisticated. The waitress asked if we’d like cakes too, and Dr. Pascal, deciding for both of us, said yes.
We sat regarding each other, I completely at a loss as to what to say. It was a little intimidating, being in the presence of such an urbane, sophisticated man on a purely social basis. He would have to take the initiative. Thankfully (although he admitted later that he was nervous too) he did so. We talked about the unseasonable coldness of the weather, and he asked me if I found his lectures interesting or informative, to which I replied enthusiastically that I did indeed.
The waitress reappeared with our drinks (in a proper coffee pot) and a plate of cakes, and I was pleased to see that some were iced with chocolate, so I hadn’t been deprived of that after all. The conversation began to flow more easily as I found myself relaxing in his presence. I began to forget that he was my professional and social superior. He certainly didn’t make me feel inferior, and asked about my background and childhood growing up in England, and soon I found myself boldly asking questions about him in return, which he seemed happy to answer, his face and especially his beautiful brown eyes becoming more and more animated and the mouth behind his luxuriant moustache frequently breaking into a smile.
He told me that he was an only child; that his father had died many years ago when he was a boy; that his mother had never remarried and had brought him up alone. Fortunately, she was financially secure, so much so that he’d been able to train for medicine. The conversation became increasing intimate and almost confessional, and he said he supposed they were particularly close, sometimes rather excessively so, as a result of there being just the two of them. His mother was inclined to over-protectiveness and sometimes could be possessive, jealously disliking him soclalising with women (this evening the official story would be that he’d had a medical emergency), afraid of losing him to another. His apparent good mood seemed to slip a little when he said that and his eyes looked troubled. “But she can’t rule my life completely; that is simply unfair”, he said, sounding a little petulant.
I felt a rush of sympathy and had to fight down a slight urge to reach across and put an understanding hand over his. “No, she can’t,” I said, sympathetically.
We continued our comfortable conversation, with another ordering of coffee, and the time flew by until, with the café now empty, the proprietor came to our table to tell us she wanted to close in fifteen minutes. Dr. Pascal brought out his watch, stared at it and exclaimed, “Goodness me; it’s a quarter to ten! I must be going. Mama will be getting anxious. And you’ll be getting into trouble.”
“Oh dear,” I said in dismay, “I think I may already be. It’s lights out at ten o’clock. Miss Cavell will be furious if she gets to know.”
He laughed. “No, don’t worry about that. We’ll concoct a story to explain your being out late with me. I’ll tell Matron you’ve been with me to visit an interesting medical case following this evening’s lecture, or something like that. That should be a plausible explanation if it gets back to her. Even Miss Cavell won’t question my words.”
And so we donned our coats and hats and walked hastily back to St. Gilles. As we approached the hospital, Dr. Pascal said, “Well, thank you very much for a most pleasant evening, Miss Farley. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you.”
“Thank you too, Dr. Pascal,” I said. “I’ve enjoyed it too.”
He turned to look at me, smiling. “Really? We must do it again then.”
“Oh yes, I’d love that,” I said, probably rather too enthusiastically.
“Bon! Bon!” he said, relief unmistakably written across his handsome face. “And please: call me Henri. At least, when we’re alone together.”
“Very well . . . Henri”, I said. And please call me Christobel.”
“Yes, Christobel,” he replied, “I will.”
Goodness me, this has turned out to be a very lengthy entry! But then it isn’t every evening that one is taken out to a cafe by a tall dashing doctor, is it? Last evening’s event deserves a lot of words!
9th February, 1911
Henri and I are now formally walking out together at weekends and seeing each other once or twice a week in the evenings when we’re both off duty. And of course we see each other during working hours too, when I smile secretively at him and he smiles secretively back. He has spoken to Dr. Depage, who in turn, as the most senior doctor, has had words with Miss Cavell to the effect that she has no right to dictate the social mores of her staff outside of working hours. After all, this is now the twentieth century, not prim-and-proper Victorian times. Provided that our work isn’t affected, how we spend our private lives is really no concern of hers. Henri told me that she huffed and puffed a little about “maintaining standards”, but in the end relented, because she regards me as a valued member of her staff.
All the same, she has expressed some anxiety that our friendship might lead to marriage, which would mean that she’d lose me. She doesn’t see how a woman could possibly combine the roles of wife, and possibly mother, with really competent and caring nurse. Perhaps she has a point there. Not that Henri and I are thinking in such terms anyway; after all, we’ve only been openly walking out together for two weeks!
Yesterday (Sunday) was a nice sunny day and we had a very pleasant walk around my favourite park, the Bois de la Cambre, and then sat on a bench for ages talking about all sorts of things: some trivial, some serious. He is so easy and interesting to talk to. Then when it began to feel a little chilly we paid another visit to the café (the same one: I’m beginning to sentimentally regard it as “our” café).
After that, Henri escorted me back to the Nurses’ Home. At the entrance, where we hovered not wanting to part (at least I didn’t) he cast a quick look around to check that no one was watching and then kissed me! It was a little bristly if I’m to be honest, but very pleasurable nonetheless. Then, emboldened because I didn’t object (and after another look around) he did so again, this time more passionately, taking me properly in his arms. I must confess, my knees went a little wobbly and I suddenly felt a little damp in a certain place, and I could feel a certain part of him hardening too.
I had a sudden mental image of his bare chest again, and his stomach, and . . . No; I mustn’t put such shameless thoughts on paper! But we were in a rather exposed place; anyone could have suddenly appeared and seen us. Like one of Miss Cavell’s spies, for example. So we tore ourselves apart and said goodnight, and I hardly slept a wink last night!
8th March, 1911
Another milestone in the story of Henri and I. The other evening in the cafe, he suggested that it was time I was introduced his mother. He said he’d mentioned to her that he was now walking out with me (well he’d had to really, to explain his sudden and frequent absences from home). Apparently she had “got into rather a sulk” at first, but he had assured her that I was a really nice, completely respectable young lady (young? I’m nearly 32, for goodness sake!) and a nurse too. That had made her reconsider her reaction somewhat, Henri said. Just supposing, he’d suggested – just supposing! – we got married one day, and Émilie lived with us, there would be a trained carer to look after her in her old age. But unless or until that happened, it would be an entirely academic question. It seems his mother can put her possessiveness aside when there are pragmatic considerations involved!
So yesterday, with some trepidation I must admit, I went to Sunday lunch with them. They have a very nice villa in Scharbeek, because Henri’s father was a banker and he had made prudent provision for his wife and son in the unhappy event of his death. But Émilie wasn’t what I’d imagined at all. I’d feared she might be a tall, sour-faced domineering bully, but she was actually a small, clearly once beautiful woman in her sixties, rather like an older version of Miss Cavell, and quite nice, if a little reserved and distant. It was certainly clear that she adored Henri and that he thought the world of her too, judging by the frequent affectionate looks they gave each other.
The meal (which was delicious: Émilie’s housekeeper is an excellent cook) was most enjoyable and the conversation, once she had got over her reserve and I over my nervousness, began to flow quite easily. She certainly seemed impressed that I was a nurse and had chosen to make my career in her country, and complimented me on my French. She had only a basic level of English so we spoke French. She knew a little of England, having visited several times in her younger days, so that gave us something to talk about.
Henri just sat there and beamed, his glance flitting between his mother and I, clearly relieved that things were going well. He had promised that we could escape after a decent interval if I found the meeting too trying, but actually I felt comfortable staying there, relaxing in the elegant drawing room, sipping coffee and being shown the family photographs: family groups of Monsieur and Madame Pascal and a shawled infant, then a sailor-suited five year-old Henri, and then, poignantly, pictures of just mother and son marking the years as he grew into a fine figure of a man.
In fact we didn’t excuse ourselves from Émilie’s company at all and I stayed there the entire afternoon and evening, taking high tea too. Finally, at nine o’clock, Henri walked me home, we kissed goodnight and I collapsed happily into my bed, although I must admit, I did rather fantasise, wicked woman that I am becoming, about sharing Henri’s.
23rd April, 1911
Now I know what it’s like to share Henri’s bed! Well, not his, exactly. Émilie is not so broad-minded that she would countenance my being admitted to his bedroom. But our kissing and petting, when the opportunities allow, has been getting ever more passionate, not to say frustrating, of late. The dear man, he really has awoken feelings both physical and emotional that I never thought I had. It’s like a kettle coming slowly but inexorably to the boil; the head of steam just can’t be contained or denied forever.
And to think that just four months ago I was perfectly resigned (if I ever gave the subject a moment’s thought, which I didn’t) to a life of spinsterhood, married like Miss Cavell to my calling, content to bestow all my love and caring on my suffering fellow-man. But look at me now!
No, something had to happen. Henri’s hesitant proposal, looking at me somewhat anxiously, was that we take a hotel room for a few hours. He didn’t specify the purpose but it was perfectly obvious what it was. I felt a stab of fear at first, and perhaps a slight automatic feeling of revulsion. After all, it isn’t an entirely respectable thing to do, is it? It’s the sort of thing that philandering middle-aged men do with “ladies of the night”, isn’t it? Not well brought up, God-fearing women like me. What would Mother think?
But I knew we couldn’t go on like we had been doing, tying ourselves in tight knots of frustration. And besides, it wouldn’t be cheap, casual sexual relations. Henri and I love each other. I don’t know how he feels, but for me it’s an aching need which has to find expression, or I will go mad.
And so, yesterday, he told me that he’d discreetly booked a hotel room in a quiet quarter of the city, looking at me anxiously for agreement. I simply blushed and nodded, but my heart was pounding. We made our way there through the bright spring Brussels sunshine. Thankfully, it wasn’t my Monthly time; it wasn’t due for another two weeks. I didn’t want to put him off. The hotel wasn’t very prepossessing, with a small, dingy foyer, but I had no idea what to expect. Henri confirmed our names as “Monsieur and Madame Lucas” to the concierge, a small beak-nosed man with oiled hair who with a rather knowing smile handed him the room key, as I instinctively covered my ring-less left hand.
We mounted the uncarpeted stairs to the room and Henri let us in. To my surprise, it was simply-furnished but clean and pleasantly decorated, and there was clean linen on the bed. Henri closed and locked the door. I stood looking at him, feeling utterly childish, my heart hammering so much I thought it would burst from my chest. He would certainly have to take the initiative this time.
“Well, here we are”, he said, his voice slightly shrill, betraying nervousness too.
“Yes, here we are,” I repeated in a whisper, completely at a loss for sensible words.
He sat me gently down on the bed and bent to remove my boots and hose, the feel of his fingers on my bare thighs electric. Then he stood me up and slowly undressed me. I gasped, embarrassed, as my underwear fell to the floor and he pulled back the coverlet and laid me down again. He quickly removed his own clothes as I stared, mesmerised, until he stood naked, every bit as beautiful as I had so often imagined recently. Of course I’ve seen men naked many times, in a chaste, matter-of-duty sort of way, but never like that, and certainly not with the phallus urgently engorging and rising, becoming excitingly rampant. I’ve only seen it like that in medical illustrations.
He sank down into bed beside me as I moved to make room, his face flushed with excitement. He kissed me and his hand was on my breast, and then he was quickly spreading my thighs, his hand moving to my down-below, and then I cried out in virgin pain and impatient need as he gently eased himself inside.
It seemed only moments before I felt him pulsating inside me. He sagged onto me briefly and then rolled aside, gasping. “I’m sorry,” he laughed “I was in a hurry, mon amour.” He pulled me to him, holding me tight, one hand on the back of my head, in my hair, as I buried my face in his furry chest and held him too, just as tight, with fireworks exploding in my brain.