Enchantments and Desolations
Life is not fair, Cosette thought. It’s spring, and I’ve not been outside the gate once! And I wasn’t even flirting with him! Papa’s just paranoid.
She sat down in a huff. The cold granite of the old garden bench had about as much sympathy for her as Papa and Toussaint did. It was so much better at school, she thought. Papa was there, but she spent most of her time with other girls, and the nuns were very kind. They had wanted her to become a nun, too. But she hadn’t been pretty then. Really, the idea of it! Become a nun, just as life starts to be interesting?
Except life is not interesting. This overgrown garden would be wildly romantic: except no handsome young men climb the wall, and Papa and Toussaint are hardly a pair of ogres keeping me prisoner.
She paced over to the rusty front gate. They had never unlocked it. Perhaps the key had been lost long ago. They only ever entered through the back. Not many people came along the street. Just the soldiers going to and from the barracks, and a few people who kept the plots on each side of their house for vegetable gardens. Cosette had smiled at one of the lancers once. He had smiled back. But she hoped not to see him again. He seemed too big and too brash. She did not like his moustache at all, though his blond hair was quite pretty. He passed every day, at the same time. She grew bored with him. Even the same people passed at the same times. In the Luxembourg, there was the curious young man with the pretty face and deep eyes. Maybe, now that spring had come, he would be back. Papa thought she was flirting with him, which she was not. Looking is not flirting. It can’t be. But he didn’t come in the autumn when Papa had finally agreed to go back.
Someone was coming along the road. Cosette prepared to hide, in case it was that infernal lancer again. But no. Someone new! A woman carrying a basket. As she came closer, Cosette watched the wind blow her skirts against her legs. She did not wear enough petticoats, it seemed, for yes, she did have two legs, struggling against the gust of wind that finally knocked her bonnet back. As suddenly as it had blown up, the wind was gone. The woman moved over towards Cosette’s fence, and Cosette almost stepped back to hide. But the woman looked possibly familiar, though her hair had come undone and was whipping about in her face. She jumped when she saw Cosette watching.
“So someone lives in this place now?”
“I do. With my father.”
The woman was young, only a few years older than Cosette herself, and while not as pretty, she had a pleasing face. She set down her basket in order to have both hands free to smooth back her hair and replace her bonnet. “Lovely garden.”
“Maybe. I don’t know how to work on it. My father was a gardener, but he’s been ill.”
“That’s where I know those eyes! The gardener’s daughter. The convent of the Bernardines of Perpetual Adoration.”
“Why, yes! You were a student, too?”
“Unfortunately, yes. Some years ahead of you, to be sure. I was there when your father arrived and brought you with him.”
“The nuns were very kind to us.&rquo;
“They are kind to the point of tediousness. Your father is ill?”
“He is getting better. That is why the garden is overgrown. He doesn’t like a lot of people about, so we only have the one servant, to cook for us mostly. She would not be much good in the garden.”
“What a place to retire to!”
“What is your name?”
“Dominique Lavalette. Your father is M. Fauvent?”
“Fauchelevent. Madame the prioress had a terrible time with his name. I’m called Cosette.”
“Cosette. How charming. A pretty name, a pretty girl, an overgrown garden: it is almost a cheap novel.”
Cosette smiled. “I suppose it is.”
“And does your prince come and visit you at night, while the ogre is asleep?” Dominique joked.
“I have no prince. Just the lancers.” She refrained from rolling her eyes, but her opinion of them was evident nonetheless.
“I was just going to visit my brother. He is a lancer.”
Cosette looked mortified.
“He’s also a complete imbecile.” Dominique smiled. “I should invite you to tea.”
“Papa would never let me.”
“Then he must be real ogre.”
“Oh no. He’s very kind. But he wouldn’t let me come.”
“Then you are in need of a prince to climb your garden wall.”
“Maybe I am.”
“My brother is expecting me. Do you spend a great deal of time in the garden?”
“You can come see me any afternoon,” Cosette told her hopefully.
“I shall. Give me your hand, there’s a good girl.” Cosette stuck her hand through the bars, and Dominique kissed it as a gentleman would. “A pretty thing like you needs a prince.”
But Cosette did not see Dominique for a few days. The rest of the week was rainy, and Cosette could not go out. Finally the weather cleared, but there was still no sign of Dominique. But the next day, Cosette went out to the garden only to see one of the large stones that formed the decaying wall sitting on her bench. It had not been there the day before. She picked it up, curious, and quickly grabbed the letter that sat underneath.
The stationery was pale blue and heavy.
“I’ll come tonight, around midnight. Dominique.” She had a firm, confident hand, as confident as she was. Cosette quickly folded the note and stuck it inside her shoe, just in case Papa or Toussaint came out to the garden, though neither ever did.
She was excited all afternoon. The evening seemed to pass as if time had decided to stand still. Papa wanted to spend the evening with her, and usually she did not mind, but tonight, every minute was a torment. Cosette had not been so excited since she realised the young man in the Luxembourg had been looking at her.
Finally, Papa went to bed. Toussaint went to bed. Cosette pretended to go to bed, but after she was certain Toussaint was asleep, she put her dress back on. When the church bells in the distance chimed eleven, she thought she would jump out of her skin. Only one more hour. When the chimes finished the third quarter, she carefully crept down the stairs, freezing as one creaked under her weight. But Toussaint never stirred, or if she did, she did not seek the source of the sound.
The shadows were very dark, and the moon itself was only at the first quarter. Cosette sat down on her bench, facing the gate, waiting. A soft breeze came up, which chilled her. She had neglected to bring a shawl. Suddenly, a new shadow appeared - it appeared to be that of a man in a tall hat. Cosette took a deep breath and turned around.
“This is how princes dress these days,” the apparition apologised softly.
“You needed a prince, cherie. Lovely togs, aren’t they?” She was dressed in men’s clothing: very light trousers, a black frock coat, some middle colour of vest and cravat, and of course, the top hat that had caused the shadow. She doffed her hat and bowed. Cosette could see that her hair was as short as a man’s, parted and combed in a masculine manner.
“Is this costume for me? Why did you cut off your hair?”
“The costume is usual for me, and that is why I cut off my hair. The plait you saw - well, the plait is mine, actually, just no longer attached to my head. Wind and bonnets and hairpins are not good friends to me.”
Cosette looked at her curiously.
“Don’t be afraid, cherie.”
“I’m not afraid,” she replied, a little defensively. Hesitantly, she asked, “Can I touch it?”
Dominique grinned. “If I can touch those curls of yours.”
Cosette took a step forward, and put up her hand, but could not quite bring herself to do it, even with the invitation. Dominique closed the remaining gap between them. She softly stroked Cosette’s hair.
“Oh!” she exclaimed in pleasure, surprised at how lovely Dominique’s soft hand felt against her hair.
“Give me your hand,” Dominique softly commanded. Cosette immediately yielded her right hand, which she quickly found stroking the young woman’s hairline.
She combed her fingers a bit through the edges of Dominique’s hair, knocking it into her eye. By now, Dominique had her hand on Cosette’s waist, but Cosette did not seem to notice. She pushed the hair back out of Dominique’s eyes, running her fingers all the way down to the nape before pulling free. “It’s so short!”
“Not nearly, little one. I need barbering badly.”
Cosette looked closely at her. “But then you’d look quite a man.”
“That is the point, cherie. As if I could go around town looking a hermaphrodite! You don’t mind me, do you?”
“I like you. I don’t have any friends.” She started playing with Dominique’s hair again, not meeting her eyes.
“We’ll remedy that as best we can, won’t we?”
Cosette suddenly shivered as the night breeze came up again. “I’d like that.”
“Oh dear, you can’t be catching cold.” Dominique removed her coat and wrapped it around Cosette’s shoulders. Her shirtsleeves seemed very white in the moonlight. The waistcoat was darted in a way that the coat was not, emphasising the rise of her bosom. Cosette thanked her softly. “No trouble at all.” She stroked Cosette’s cheek, following the jawline. “You are a pretty one.”
“Thank you.” Cosette looked down for a moment, thinking. Is it a compliment or not? It’s true, and I think it’s quite nice, but perhaps I shouldn’t. Finally, she looked back up at Dominique. “You look prettier in trousers.” She flushed even as she said it.
Dominique laughed. “You just like my hair.”
“I don’t think anything in the world is as soft as your cheek.” She paused for a moment, as if she wanted to say something more. “Let us sit down. Tell me about yourself.”
“You know all about me.”
“Not all. Where are you from? How old are you? What do you like to read and where do you like to go?”
“I don’t remember where we’re from. I only remember the convent. Papa doesn’t like talking about the past. My mother is dead, and I’m sure he misses her very much. I’m fifteen. We left the convent two years ago, almost. Papa wanted me to see some of real life before I decided to become a nun. I couldn’t imagine it now. I like poems. I like stories with happy endings. I like - I like going to the Luxembourg and looking at the people. I like running through the fields, even though I know I should act more dignified than that. There are roses in the garden. I so look forward to June, when they will be in full bloom. Now you have to tell me.”
Dominique gave a mock sigh. “Very well. I have lived my entire life in Paris. I am twenty-two years old. I entered the convent school at ten and left at eighteen, so I remember your father’s coming. My mother is dead. That is the reason I went to the convent school, because my father did not know how to teach me these sorts of things. I have one brother, Marlon, who is a lancer. He is three years older than I. My father no longer lives in Paris; he stays in the South, for his health. He thinks I am acting as governess to the daughters of a marquis, and as long as that is the case, I am quite able to be on my own. I make my living in various ways, and so I get on. I like happy endings and pretty girls and good poetry. So shall we be friends?”
Cosette thought for a moment. “I think so.”
“Good, good.” Dominique kissed her on the cheek. “When must you go in?”
“What time is it? I haven’t paid attention to the bells.”
Dominique checked her watch - a very fine men’s watch - and shook her head. “Half past midnight. You will be exhausted in the morning.”
“Please stay a bit more?”
“If you like.”
“Is it rude to ask why you dress like a man?”
“It’s easier to dress in men’s clothing. I do a great deal of walking. Can you imagine tramping all over the city in those little slippers? Then there is ever so much less clothing. No one cares or even notices if I wear stays or not. I can slouch as I like. I only have to bother with hairpins when I put my plait in. I despise bonnets. I feel I cannot see where I am going when I have to wear one. A hat is infinitely preferable. You will understand in a few years, when you are no longer young enough to avoid hiding those curls in a knot atop your head. And I am not so pretty as you. I know as well as you that I am better gentleman than I am a lady.”
“But you shall never marry.”
“What do you know of men? I shall never marry, but it is because I am not a woman.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There are” - Dominique moved closer, so she was whispering in Cosette’s ear, her lips so close they touched the skin - “more than just men and women in this world. There are men who like women and women who like men. There are also men who like men, and women who like women. To say that women who like women and women who like men are the same would be as monstrous an error as it would be to say that women who like men are the same as men who like men.”
“I like you. I liked the nuns. I liked several girls at school.”
“When I say ‘like’, I mean ‘fall in love with’.” She ran a finger down Cosette’s spine, which caused her to shiver with excitement.
“I like you.”
Cosette spun around. Dominique - Dominique had eyes like the young man from the Luxembourg! It was all too curious. Perhaps - perhaps she was really a young man who had been in a dress? It was as logical as that a young woman in trousers sat next to her. She carefully, hesitantly reached out to feel if what seemed to be her breasts were real. The nipples were hard in the cold weather, and very sensitive, for Dominique let out a soft moan of pleasure.
“You torment me, you really do.”
Cosette jerked her hand away. It had felt rather pleasant to her, as well, but she was not certain she should continue. “You are cold. You should take your coat back.”
“Do you reject me, little one?”
“Then touch me again. You keep yourself all locked up, or else I could teach you everything there is to learn about real pleasure.”
Cosette complied, letting Dominique guide her hand. Dominique started to breathe harder, until she finally thrust Cosette’s hand away. “No more, or else I’ll have us both found out.”
“You did nothing wrong, cherie. You have lovely hands. So lovely, I fear I might cry out in rapture, and then where would we be?”
“I did well, then?”
“You did marvelously. Beautiful child. Kiss me.”
Cosette kissed her as a child would, a quick peck on the cheek.
“I shall have to teach you to kiss before I go. Close your eyes. Lean your head back a little.” Cosette did as she was told. “Keep your lips loose, as if you were just relaxed, breathing normally.” Dominique leaned in, place one hand on her back for support, and kissed her properly.
Cosette nearly melted. It was a moment before she could speak, and all she could say was “That was nice.”
“It was very nice. Today was Thursday. I shall come again on Tuesday, unless it rains, and then I shall come the next clear night , if you would like me to come back.”
“I would like that very much.”
“Wait, Dominique! Your coat!” Cosette shivered as she took it off.
Dominique took it gratefully. “It smells of you now. Until Tuesday, cherie.“ She bowed, then disappeared into the shadows along the garden wall.
Cosette exhaled slowly. It was a dream - it must be! Love? Her? She was something like a rather pretty boy. Like the boy from the Luxembourg. It was cold, and the hour was late, so Cosette forced herself back to bed. But she could not sleep. What was it Dominique had liked so much? Clad only in her nightgown, Cosette stood in front of the mirror, staring not at her face, as she was wont to do, but at her bosom. She ran her right hand over her breast. What was she doing wrong? She felt nice enough, she supposed, but what had Dominique found so exciting? She tried again. Oh! Was that it? The nipple. She lifted her nightgown and stuck her hand in, her fingers clumsily grasping. Oh! That was it! Oh! Her whole body tingled, especially the forbidden area between her legs. So this is what I was doing to her, she thought. In that case, I would like me, too.
Bed, bed, I must go to bed. Tuesday is so far away.
Tuesday, Cosette was not so nervous. She expected the tall hat, the girl in trousers. Dominique seemed very jaunty, indeed, a different pair of trousers hugging the curve of her hips. Cosette remembered her shawl this time, and the moment she saw Dominique, she ran up to her, the fringe flying out behind. “I missed you!” she whispered excitedly. “Quick, to the bench.”
Dominique allowed herself to be pulled by the hand. “So you like me very much, cherie?”
“Of course.” Cosette suddenly felt shy. She did not know how to ask for what she wanted. Finally, she looked up through her lashes at Dominique. “Would you kiss me?”
“Gladly.” She put her arms around Cosette and bent into a proper kiss.
Cosette was startled to discover she was sucking on something that seemed to fill her entire mouth. It took her a moment to realise it was Dominique’s tongue. Her lips curled around it, unbidden, and she was quite sorry when it retreated to Dominique’s mouth.
“Did you like that?”
“I think you must be much nicer than a boy. You do such lovely things.”
“I am happy to know that you like what I can do.”
“I - I tried it myself. I think it must be much nicer when someone else does it.”
“You little slut,“ Dominique smiled. “What did you try for yourself?”
“Touching - what did for you last time.”
Dominique ran her hand along Cosette’s side. “Ah, the things I could show you if you were not all bound up. You cannot like wearing stays.”
“I don’t mind them at all.”
“Of course you don’t. Your poor life is all a cage, isn’t it? When the weather is warmer, I shall bring you pleasures you could never dream of.”
“Why must I wait?”
“Because we will take all night, perhaps, and I would feel dreadful if you caught cold.”
Dominique ran her finger down Cosette’s neck. “We can do quite nice things tonight, though. Unless you want to talk or something. I can do that, too.”
“No! I mean, you do such lovely things.”
“Then we shall do lovely things.” Dominique kissed her again. “Sweet, pretty little girl.”
Cosette was in a state of rapture. She had never felt like this before. Their time together seemed so short.
But Dominique came every week, sometimes twice, and Cosette never tired of their illicit trysts. When March turned to April and the mild winter gave way to a mild spring, Dominique decided that the weather had warmed enough for her purposes. One night, as she buttoned up Cosette’s bodice, Dominique whispered, “Are you bleeding?”
“What?” Cosette was shocked by the question.
“Is it your time of the month? I don’t like blood.”
Cosette was still confused, but she replied in the negative. “Why?”
“Come down the day after tomorrow in just your nightgown. Please. I’ll bring a blanket.”
“All right,” Cosette agreed in confusion.
She was nervous all the next day. A blanket? Wear her nightgown? Oh, the pleasures in store! She did not know what they might be, but the suspense was delicious. Oh, how she wished Papa would hurry to bed! The long twilight disturbed her thoughts. She wanted nothing more than the coming of darkness, so that Dominique could come.
At a quarter to midnight, Cosette jumped out of bed and started fixing her hair. She had deliberately put on her newest nightgown, hoping it would be as pretty as her day dresses. Dominique had said she wore such pretty clothes. Dominique was so curious. She knew so many things. She had met all kinds of people. She lived alone and was ever so brave. And she was prettier than most boys. Well, she was prettier than the lancers. Sometimes she looked and sounded quite a boy, but she was so gentle and kind and forgiving. Only Papa was ever so kind. Not even Papa’s brother, at the convent, had been so kind. But Dominique was kind in a different way. Cosette knew that she must fumble a great deal, but Dominique did not seem to mind. Tonight, they would try something new, and she knew Dominique would guide her.
Cosette was so excited that she did not even think to be quiet as she ran down the stairs, though her bare feet made little noise. She had kept the hinges to the garden door well-oiled, so the only sound it made was the click of the latch. It was a fine, clear night, with a net of stars spread across the moonless sky. In their blue light, she caught the shadow of a top hat and ran to her friend, smothering her cheek in excited kisses.
“Save some of that, cherie,” Dominique ordered before she stopped Cosette’s eager mouth with her own. “You follow directions very well.”
“I was so afraid you would not come!”
“I am early, if anything. You are too keen by far. Sit here on the bench with me.” She had already spread a blanket to slightly cushion the stone, and Cosette perched on the edge, staring at her bare feet as if she were about to be scolded. “You like me very much, don’t you?”
“Then you must promise to do as I say. You must promise not to cry out, at all, or we shall be discovered.”
“You intend to hurt me?”
“Not at all, cherie. Have you never shrieked with pleasure?”
Cosette blushed. “On occasion.”
“But you mustn’t tonight. Do you swear it?”
“I swear it.”
“I may not be able to stop your mouth if you try.”
“I shan’t try.”
“And you are not bleeding.”
“Of course not. I told you no.”
Dominique kissed her. “You must let me undress a little.”
“May I help?”
“If you like.” She set her hat aside and shrugged off her coat. Cosette grabbed at the buttons to her waistcoat, the pearl gently reflecting the starlight. Divested of her heaviest garments, Dominique pulled off her cravat and rolled her sleeves to the elbow. “Lie down on your back.”
Cosette did as she was told, apprehension heating her blood. She trembled as Dominique lifted her nightgown.
“Are you cold?”
“No, just excited,” she answered, her voice shaking.
Dominique kissed her stomach, then started licking trails to her navel. This is nice, Cosette thought, but no more than what we had been doing. She moved upwards, finally reaching the nipples, which hardened as her tongue caressed them. Her fingers trailed up the sensitive skin of Cosette’s inner thigh, coming to rest in the hair between her legs. The moment she barely touched the centre, Cosette’s back arched and she gasped, not in pain, but in exquisite pleasure. Dominique kissed her to choke off any cry before it could be born, but when she pulled away, Cosette whispered, desperately, “More. Please. More.”
Dominique kissed and fondled for some time before taking Cosette’s hand and putting it through the slit of her trousers. “Come, cherie, you can please me, too.”
She was warm and damp when Cosette’s fingers made it around the hem of her shirt. Cosette tried to place where that magical spot might be, that one place that could make the whole world disappear when Dominique touched it. She knew it was between the folds of skin, and she knew she had found it when Dominique arched in pleasure. While Cosette had to bite her lip to keep her pleasure inside, Dominique was accustomed to quiet. She breathed as if she had run a marathon. If she had wanted to cry out, she would not have had the breath for it. Her face was very close. Cosette tried to concentrate, to see and remember, but the sensations between her legs, where Dominique kept at work, smothered her brain.
Dominique pulled away first, her hand glistening. “Dear me, cherie, you will wear a girl out.” She wiped her hands on a corner of the blanket.
“Why did you stop?”
“Clean your hand. Aren’t you exhausted? You’ve burst upon me, and while I am quite pleased you have so enjoyed yourself, I do not think you can handle another attempt. Nor I. That bench is killing my knees. We shall have to try the grass next time.”
“There will be a next time?”
“Do you not want me to come again?”
“I don’t ever want you to leave!”
“But I must.” Dominique kissed her. “I shall see you next week. At midnight.”
“I will miss you.”
“And I will miss you, cherie. But a week is not so long. Inside, inside, so I may depart in peace.”
Cosette looked back as she reached the door, but the shadows had already swallowed her lover.
Dominique came as promised the next week, and Cosette thought her ministrations even more lovely this second time. They lay together on a blanket on the grass, completely wrapped in each other. She dared to initiate more this time, and Dominique replied with greater ardour. But again she left before the sun rose.
A few days later, a letter appeared where Dominique had left her original note. It was on white paper, but it was not unheard of to run out of blue stationary. It was long, and incredibly romantic. But the style was not straightforward, and the handwriting was not confident. But it was not entirely dissimilar to the note Cosette still kept hidden in her room. Perhaps Dominique was not so confident in confessing her love.
The lancer with the blond moustache came strolling by. Cosette glared at him for his intrusion into her happiness, for she knew now that she loved Dominique. She did not just like the lovely things the older girl could do: she truly loved her. And deciding that the letter was proof that they would somehow have to make a life together, she hid it with the other and paced all day, waiting for midnight so she could finally tell her friend that she was certain they were of the same type.
She dressed carefully. Tonight had to be special. Dominique had said she would not return until next week, but her heart had led her to leave the note, which meant she would come that night! They would have to talk rather than merely make love, and so Cosette dressed carefully in what she considered her prettiest dress, the one with the low neck.
After dinner, she decided that she would rather wait outside. Papa was away, and she could not bear to be in the house with Toussaint all evening. She read poetry for a while, then she watched the darkness fall. Perhaps Dominique would come early. She had come early, before. It was nearly ten. She placed her hand on the stone that still sat beside her on the bench. Dominique must come early. There was so much to say, and it could not all be said in the hours between midnight and the first glimmer of dawn.
Someone was here. She could feel it. She stood, smoothed her skirt, and took a deep breath. It was time. She smiled. Dominique was early. Such good news! Cosette turned, and immediately her smile faded. Not Dominique at all! A pale, sallow man stood bareheaded in her garden. In her garden, interrupting her vigil for her true love! She drew back. Had she not run into the tree, she would surely have collapsed. He was babbling. He took a step nearer. He was still in shadow, but not so much. He was familiar, now. What was he saying?
“Do you remember the day when you looked at me? It was at the Luxembourg, near the Gladiator.”
The Luxembourg! The young man with the dark eyes. He had found her at last. Nearly a year, he said. Yes, so it was. Ten months, if it really was June, as he said. Nine of those spent quite alone, but the tenth - oh dear, what if Dominique sees him? she thought. But logic seized her. He was the author of the letter. He was here. Dominique was not coming tonight.
He was still rambling. “Perhaps I annoy you. Am I annoying you?”
She found that she could not reply coherently at all. Her disappointment must be so obvious to him. How terrible, and yet, Dominique had reminded her of him. Perhaps it was he she loved all along. Her head was spinning. She reached out to steady herself, and her hand slipped. He caught her, and their eyes met for the first time since that day in June when Papa had said they would not return to the Luxembourg again.
She took his hand and laid it on her heart. He did not feel for her breasts as Dominique did. Was he shy, or virginal, or merely too much in awe to think of it?
“Do you love me, then?”
With no thought in her head other than the necessity of reply, she breathed out, “Hush, you know it.”
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