Friday, 22 April 2016

Chapter 1: “A doer, not a story teller!”

The Café Royal


My adventure began in the drawing room of Mr Archibald Cardwell’s handsome red brick house in Kensington. Mr Cardwell, a prominent underwriter at Lloyd’s of London, was away salmon fishing in Scotland with a ship owner whose fleet his syndicate had insured. He had recently authorised the payment of a claim on a vessel lost in the Bay of Bengal and his rapid settlement of the claim had been much appreciated by his client. As a thank you, he had been invited up to Scotland by the broker and the ship owner where he would, because of his excellent service, land, not just salmon but several more insurance policies from the shipping company, which would be signed onto slips when he returned to the Royal Exchange. 

I was always particularly grateful to be able to visit his vivacious and beautiful daughter, Agnes, in his absence. A widower, Mr Cardwell was a doctrinaire sort of fellow given to broad declamations about the world in general, delivered with a challenging authoritativeness. “A journalist?” he had said, his expressively mobile face twisting into a disapproving sneer, when I had first met them both at an art exhibition at the Sackville Gallery in Piccadilly. “The one thing the Empire does not need is more scribblers!” he had declared, before striding off to look at another painting and make derisive comments about the art to anyone within earshot. I had been sent by my newspaper, The Daily Courier, to interview people at the Italian futurists’ exhibition. My editor, Mr McCandless, believed that this new art was “tripe” and that it was only sustained by ‘modern’ (which was one of his greatest insults) elements of the art establishment with no critical faculty and a fear of being dubbed old fashioned. “It’s all a case of the Emperor’s new clothes, laddie!” he said to me. Old McAndless believed that if I interviewed “normal people, not 'arty types', I would obtain a better idea of their real worth as art; which was nothing, according to him. 

 As I looked around the packed gallery, I was naturally drawn to Mr Cardwell, standing in front of a kaleidoscopic night club scene by Signor Severine, or, at least, that is what the catalogue indicated it to be. Cardwell was declaiming to everyone within earshot about the random daubs of Severine’s work while his daughter, Agnes, as I was soon to discover she was called, urgently tried to silence him through gritted teeth. Now Agnes was a real work of art; petite, blonde and very pretty with hair like ripe corn, a swan neck, eyes as blue as aquamarine and a retroussé nose dusted with a few freckles. She was like the living personification of a German doll, in her cornflower blue dress with a tight, hobble silhouette. I stepped in and said to Cardwell that, while I personally agreed with his comments, I feared that in the present company his opinions were of a minority viewpoint. I attracted several glances of opprobrium myself from the avant-garde art lovers there but it was worth it to make the acquaintance of Agnes, who was smiling at me most engagingly as I attempted to calm down her fulminating parent. It was all going swimmingly until I revealed that I was a journalist. Even worse, after his negative comment about journalists, I then said that I really wanted to write adventure novels rather than work for a newspaper. This set Cardwell off on another rant about the worthlessness of fiction in general (“just pointless made up stories” he railed, dismissing Shakespeare, Dickens and Hardy equally, it seemed) and popular fiction in particular. 

Much to my relief, Cardwell’s aesthetic sense had been so offended by the paintings that he departed the exhibition shortly afterwards. Despite urging Agnes to accompany him, she remained behind; demonstrating to me for the first time that streak of independent stubbornness that runs through her character like a vein of iron ore. Fortunately, by then I had obtained the quote from her father, which would so delight my editor, when he said that the paintings “had the appearance of proper art that had been cut into small pieces with scissors, eaten by a dog and then evacuated from said canine’s bowels onto a new canvas”. “It is complete sh..!” he began. 

“Father!” scolded Agnes, nonetheless grinning, fetchingly. “You cannot come into a respected gallery of works by well regarded modern painters and call their work shit, even it is so. One of them might be present!” She looked around anxiously as if expecting an offended and combative Italian artist to descend on us any second; arms flailing and barking at us in his unintelligible and ridiculous comic-opera language. For my part I stood there in stunned silence. Never in my life had I heard a woman, especially such a beautiful and refined one, use such a word. Cardwell stomped off, thankfully, muttering to himself. I regarded Agnes with even more interest. This, I realised, was a very particular woman indeed. So pretty, so elegant, so filthy

Agnes and I looked around the rest of the exhibition and as I did so I became more and more convinced of the appropriateness of her father’s description of the process used to create the pictures. I am an accomplished draftsman myself and enjoy sketching, although I would not dare to assume the title “artist” which, I rather feel, has connotations of inflated self regard and pretentious agonised musings about the nature of the world and the meaning of life, that really do not engage me or, indeed, I suspect, most people. 

Having looked at every painting in the exhibition and anxious not to lose my delightful companion I daringly invited her to tea at the Café Royal, as a suitably artistically inclined venue and, much to my surprise and delight, she readily agreed to my request. 

 I had never had much success with women up until this point. Partly this was down, I told myself, to the unsocial hours of a newspaperman but the real reason was that I was exceedingly nervous around them. I had no siblings. No sisters to act as doorkeepers to the feminine world. So I had a tendency, in typical Irish fashion, to talk too much and gabble nonsense as I anxiously sought to prevent any embarrassing lulls in conversation. That is, if I could summon up the courage to address them in the first place at all. The women in London seemed so much more offhand and superior than those from back home in Dublin and I was quite intimidated by them. However, now, for the first time, I had discovered a young lady who engaged in lively conversation; initiating thoughts and subjects but conducting a proper two way discourse which prevented me running away with my usual one-sided monologues. What do you think about this, Mr Molloy? What are your views on that? She seemed to think that as I was a newspaperman I would have perfect intelligence on every matter of current import. 

We took the short walk along Piccadilly and as we paused to cross Regent Street she took my arm in a most companionable way. I was disappointed that our destination was just across the road, as I had noticed several gentlemen admiring Agnes’ fine looks and I was proud to be seen with such a beauty. We sat at one of the white marble tables in the glittering gold and mirrored interior. I sat against the wall with my back to one of the mirrors and noticed that Agnes frequently took little glances at her reflection. She is not a woman who does not appreciate her looks and the effect they have on others. Certainly, she was having an effect on me that afternoon and when we reluctantly parted at nearly six o’clock I boldly asked when I might see her again. 

“Well, Mr Molloy, given that you are such a prodigious tea drinker I think that perhaps you might visit my father and I for tea tomorrow at our house in Kensington. I will give you one of our cards!” As she searched in her bag for the card I congratulated myself on the fact that my “prodigious tea drinking”, whose purpose had been solely to extend our time together, had unexpectedly delivered such a positive result. 

We said goodbye and I saw her into a taxicab. She squeezed my hands and kissed me on the cheek before settling into the cab. I watched the car proceed down Piccadilly until it disappeared into the dusk. I returned to the Café Royal to relieve myself of the best part of four pots of tea and was in such a good mood that even the exorbitant cost of the tea there did not dampen my spirits. I crossed Piccadilly Circus and observed two young lovers kissing beneath the statue of Eros; the lady a pretty waitress from the nearby Lyon’s Corner House on Coventry Street. Normally, such a sight filled me with depressing feelings of inadequacy, as every young man my age seemed to have a sweetheart except myself but now I looked at the future in an entirely different way. Might, perhaps, Agnes, one day kiss me on the lips in such a passionate way? I walked down Lower Regent Street with a spring in my step. I had met a lovely girl and she wanted to see me again! I knew that my particular friend William Britten would almost certainly have just installed himself at his usual table at the Reform Club which he, being of a Liberal persuasion, was a member of. I desperately wanted to tell him my exciting news!


 Less than twenty four hours later my mood of joyous optimism was melting like late snow in April, as I stood on the front step of the Cardwell’s house in Kensington, trying to gain entrance. Although the butler had opened the door, Mr Cardwell happened to be crossing the black and white tiled floor of the hall at that very moment. He recognised me and started ranting about journalists and the authors of penny dreadfuls once more. Fortunately, Agnes then appeared by his side and explained that she had invited me. This did nothing to immediately mollify Cardwell who seemed to be under the impression that Agnes might somehow lose her standing in society if she so much as spoke to me.

When Agnes told him that I was not just a journalist but a rugby player of increasing reputation, he became even more agitated and informed me that sport was an entirely pointless occupation and certainly not one for a gentleman unless, it seemed, it concerned slaughtering animals or riding and, ideally, doing both at the same time. A lively debate followed where I argued that Britain’s sporting tradition and the prowess of our sportsmen had been a positive force in the various exploratory expeditions and military actions that had expanded and preserved the Empire. “I do hope that you are not about to pour forth ill-informed claptrap about “the playing fields of Eton” as Mr Matthew Arnold and the Duke of Wellington were wont to do!” he said. Indeed, I had been about to make exactly such a comment but I stood there on the front step of his house, shocked into silence by his ranting. I was on the point of turning and fleeing when Agnes urged her father to at least admit me into the hallway. Grumpily, he acceded and I was eventually invited in to take tea and became involved in a baffling conversation about demurrage, the details of which I will not inflict upon my readers. 

On my next visit, two days later and because of my origins, he began a polemic about Irish nationalism and the ‘powder keg’ being lit by the change in land ownership consolidated in the Land Act of three years previously. At least here was a subject on which I had some knowledge and after a two hour discussion, although argument might be closer to the point, he acknowledged that I had more about me than most people he had met from the press and said that I was permitted to pay court to his “precious and only” daughter, although for the life of him he could not understand what she saw in me. 

Agnes was, in her own way, as fiery as her father. Her mother had died in childbirth and Cardwell had brought her up himself, dismissing her nanny when she started school. As a result, she showed little interest in the fashions and foibles of her sex but was able to engage in lively debate on any number of topics from economics to politics, from science to music, although she had a particular interest in exploration and the activities of the Royal Geographical Society. 

 On that particular wet day in March, Nineteen Twelve, I listened as the rain intermittently lashed the windows of the Cardwell’s house, like a naughty urchin throwing gravel at the glass. I looked down at Agnes’ blonde head resting on my lap and recalled our intervening romantic activity over the previous few weeks. I had been surprised and delighted the first time she had initiated a passionate kiss with me as I left her house one evening, after an extended lecture by her father on the opportunities for insurance in the new area of aviation. Fortunately, Mr Cardwell did not seem at all concerned to leave us on our own if he had a dinner in the City to attend at his livery hall, the Mansion House or some other such august institution. There was never any mention of a chaperone and each time I visited her, Agnes was that little bit more tactile and passionate. We would spend long minutes with our lips locked, her tongue shockingly invading my mouth. Later, I was surprised when she began to caress my thighs and chest as we kissed. 

On my next visit she had encouraged me to stroke her own thighs through her aubergine coloured silk skirt. My hand then slid up to her hip and around her tightly corseted waist. Before I knew what had happened she had pushed me onto my back and was, rather awkwardly I admit, half lying on top of me. I could feel the soft cushion of her breasts on my chest. Unfortunately, we had been disturbed by the Cardwell’s ancient butler, Gibson, knocking on the door to deliver afternoon tea. We had attempted to compose and untangle ourselves but from the way he looked at me, as he poured the Darjeeling, I suspect he knew exactly what had been going on. 

After he left, we resumed our ardent kissing and that, combined with her stroking of my thighs, soon had an effect on my manhood. I was mortified, as I did not want to send her screaming from the room. I was already imagining her furious father being guided into the room by Gibson, a horsewhip in his hand. Casually, I tried to pull the bottom of my tweed jacket across my lap. 

“Don’t hide it, Edmund. It is lovely! Lovely that you find me so exciting! That you are aroused!” I was stunned as she slipped her slim fingers under my jacket and caressed my member through my tweed trousers. Who would have guessed that she would be so forward? It must be more than burgeoning love, I reasoned; we must be destined for a life of connubial bliss. I had always thought that a proper lady would never contemplate any sort of intimacy before marriage until I met a vicar who was a friend of Britten’s. He informed me that a surprisingly high proportion of women he married were already with child, as he could tell from the period between marriage and the birth of their first child whom, of course, he then christened. This had shocked my Irish sensibilities somewhat as this was not some East End church but was in a nice part of town not very far, in fact, from the Cardwell’s house. When I discussed it later with Britten he expostulated the theory that once two people were engaged they felt no shame in “starting early” as he put it. 

I had reported the incident with Agnes to Britten later that night, as we took a glass of port in the Reform, although I didn’t raise the subject initially. In fact, I had been discussing Mr Cardwell’s views on Irish home rule when Britten interrupted me and said: “Look here old chap that is all very interesting but how are things with that lovely daughter of his?” Britten had met her when I had introduced them at a Royal Geographical Society lecture we had all attended. 

“Well, the most extraordinary incident happened between us just this afternoon when I went around there for tea!” I said. 

“The old journalism keeping you busy then, Molloy?” he laughed. Britten worked for a rubber company and always joked that my flexible hours didn’t actually amount to a full time job at all. 

“It is quiet at present, much to my frustration. I am spending my days writing obituaries of prominent citizens who my editor expects to drop off the mortal coil any month! At least with actual deceased people there is some urgency to get the text together but these people I have been assigned to are not even dead yet! Apart from George Grossmith, the actor, no-one of note appears to be dying this month! I have just been updating, for example, the entry for Lord James Hoxton!” 

“Surely Hoxton is a man in his prime?” asked Britten. “There must be many more fragile candidates?” 

“Old McCandless, believes that the combination of drink, women and chasing wild animals around the dangerous parts of the world will bring about his demise before his time!” I answered. 

“Yes, well it is the women I am trying to focus on. One might get the impression that you are dissembling on the subject of Miss Agnes Amelia Cardwell, Molloy!” laughed Britten. 

“Not at all. It was you who, yet again, brought up the subject of my supposed part time working practices, despite the fact that a journalist is on call at all times, seven days a week!” I said. “No nine to five existence in a comfortable office for me! In fact, I have to go to my office,” I extracted my pocket watch, “in forty five minutes!” 

“I weep for your tragic life! Now tell me about Agnes!” He waved at one of the club’s waiters and asked for the cigars to be brought. I declined, at first but he insisted, saying it would help my breathing and stamina upon the rugby field. 

“Well, how do I put this delicately?” I began. 

“You do not! You put it as indelicately as possible!” he replied. I told him that Agnes’ and our relationship had recently begun a physical phase. He looked at me with open mouthed surprise. “You do not mean, surely…?” he began. 

“I think your florid imagination is getting ahead of you!” I said. I then went on to describe our increasingly passionate kissing and caressing sessions. I emphasised that at no time had I made any of the running but that, and I hesitated before saying it, even to my best friend, my manhood had responded to her kisses and touch and that she had caressed my length through my trousers. She had even made appreciative noises; making it quite clear to me that she knew what she was doing. 

“Good Heavens! I mean, good Heavens!” said Britten leaning back in his chair from his previously hunched and conspiratorial position. We paused to light the cigars proffered by the waiter. “You lucky, lucky man! She is obviously one of these modern women. A suffragette too, I suppose?”

“Certainly,” I agreed. “But her liberal sexual views seem more as a result of a lack of a mother in her formative years and the somewhat unconventional behaviour of her father, despite his supposedly staid business credentials. The presence of ladies as overnight guests at the Cardwell’s home is not unknown, I am informed and I am not speaking of professional ladies here, Britten. These are single women and widows who do this at their own whim!” 

“How extraordinary! And how lucky for you that your young lady is so engagingly forward!” he sighed jealously. His own pursuit of the appropriately named Virginia Maiden had not proceeded past a peck on the cheek, which he had snatched when she was looking away from him, distracted by the noisy ascent of a swan in St James’ Park. 




That discussion had taken place the previous week and now I was sat back on the sofa with my flies undone by the delicately lascivious fingers of Agnes. She was making little “mmm, mmm” noises as her soft mouth slid up and down my manhood. I could feel her saliva dribbling down my length and soaking my sack. I had my hand on the back of her neck, curling a finger around some stray wisps of corn coloured hair, which had escaped her loose chignon. “I want to see it!” she had said a few minutes earlier as she caressed my length through my trousers once more and her fingers started undoing my buttons immediately. She had freed me, with surprisingly little fumbling, and stroked me with her soft hand, pulling my foreskin up over my purple knob and then down again. “I want to kiss it!” she had said, wriggling sideways on the sofa and bending her head down towards my lap. Never have I felt anything so soft and wet, as her tongue slid along my length. Matters appeared to be proceeding in some dream state as her mouth enveloped my knob completely and she started to move her head up and down while gently pumping my column with her delicately curled fingers. 

“Where did you learn to do this?” I murmured. She pulled off me with an audible ‘pop’.

“I watched a lady servicing my father one evening in his study! He had not shut the door properly and I was able to spy upon them. He appeared to enjoy it greatly and I decided that this must be one of those things about intimate relations that are hidden from young people like us. I have been wanting to try it ever since! Are you enjoying it?” 

“Goodness, Agnes! It is the most wonderful feeling I have ever experienced!” I said but wondered whether seeing her father in the throes of erotic tumescence may have unbalanced her somewhat. What a shock that must have been for her small, delicate, feminine mind. “But please continue!” She smiled sweetly and applied herself to my pleasure once more. She continued assiduously and it was shortly after this that I felt a tingling urgency in my nether regions. “Agnes I think you had better stop or I am going to…” But it was too late and I felt my release as I discharged into her mouth. I must have convulsed five or six times. After my final emission she pulled her mouth off me, leaving my glistening member to flop back against my trousers. She looked at me, smiled and swallowed. 

“Well, that was a surprise! I had no idea your emission would be so forceful or so large!” she said running the tip of her tongue over her bottom lip and catching a droplet of my essence, which had lingered there like a small pearl. She licked it up, daintily. 

“Agnes, that was wonderful! What a lovely, intimate gift to your beloved!” I said attempting to sound grateful, dignified and romantic at the same time. 

“Yes, it was quite enjoyable!” she said. “Now fasten yourself up as I think I may ring for some sherry!” she said, reaching for the bell on the lacquered Chinese table in front of us. I just managed to put my deflating self back inside my clothes before Gibson appeared to take Agnes’ order. 

After he had left the room I dropped off the sofa on to one knee and declared to her: “Agnes, I think that now is the time for me to ask you…” 

“No! No! No! Edmund! Do not spoil this moment. I like you very much and I enjoyed giving you physical pleasure just now but do not raise your hopes as to anything more permanent! A proposal is not what I want! And, in fact, if you continue I may have to cease any future contact between us!” 

“But I thought that such behaviour on your part was an acknowledgement of a future together! A literal taste for what married life might bring!” I said, shocked and puzzled by her attitude.. “Starting early!” I used Britten’s phrase. How could she go from that to suggesting that we might not see each other any more? I was dumbfounded. Our relationship, both mental and physical, had been proceeding so well. 

“I have the evidence, indeed I have just swallowed it, that you found me physically exciting but you cannot build a life on sexual pleasure alone, particularly if it flows, if I may use such an expression, in just one direction. You have been a fine friend and conversation partner and that act on my behalf was by way of a little reward for the dinners, events and concerts you have taken me to. A thank-you before we both move on. I am afraid that I have been using you for practice in the romantic and intimate arts, which is cruel of me, I admit. I have been thinking about this for some time. Do not think that I will apply my mouth to your manhood ever again. Do not even dream of driving it into my, admittedly at present, moist feminine parts or, as my father enjoys with his ladies, as I know, my posterior exit. That pleasure is for my future husband who, I now realise, I need to identify as soon a possible before I lose my youth and beauty and become...twenty five!” 

“What?” I mumbled, my mind racing simultaneously with thoughts as to why her parts might be moist, of sliding myself into her lower orifices but also with what was patently an ending of our relationship. “What?” I repeated. 

“There is no real one reason I can elucidate, I am afraid. You may just put it down to the capriciousness of the female, if you will. Do not feel in any way inadequate or wanting. I am sure I will daydream about your manhood in days to come and my sex will become as lubricated as it did earlier. But that lubricated sex is destined to be enjoyed by another man!” 

I was shocked, not least by her frank language. Did a women’s hole become lubricated? How? “You mean…there is another?” I asked, dreading the response. I actually, at around this point, thought I might drop dead; be struck down by catastrophic disappointment alone. McCandless would wonder whether to give me a two line obituary and might ask young Williams to do it. I suspected I would be dropped at the last minute as some greater luminary’s demise pushed me off the page so I would not even be a footnote in history. No-one would even know to inscribe on my gravestone the words 'Edmund Sean Molloy January 11th 1889 - March 21st 1912. Died of a broken heart'. How could I go from such ecstasy to such agony in so short a time period? 

“No. Not at all! No-one else!” she said, although I am not sure that I believed her. “I am afraid that I now realise that I need a plan for my life and that plan includes a very clear idea of the attributes of my future husband and, I am afraid, that having a nice curved penis is but one small part of the person I am seeking." 

Had she really just used the word ‘penis’? Had she just called my part ‘small’? What other experience did she have, I wondered? “Is it about my job? I am going to ask McCandless for a raise in my salary.” Although I knew there was no chance of that. “Or is it my calling itself? I am sure I could get a job in the City if you prefer! Perhaps in a bank, or your father might help me get a placement on a box at Lloyd’s!” 

“I do suggest that you do not bring my father into this! It would be unfortunate if I had to tell him that you exposed your manhood to me and caused me distress and fear!” she said, coolly, her eyes as hard and unyielding as chips of blue, glacial ice. 

Had she just threatened me?  Was that blackmail?  “But I could…” I began. 

She pressed her finger to my lips. “Dear Edmund, please stop. You will just demean yourself. Please do not be pathetic. You are a fine young man and begging and grovelling is unbecoming in such a man. It is just that I have realised that I seek a different type of man. A man of adventure. A man who takes risks in the deep, dark recesses of the world. A man like Sir James Hoxton, not, I am afraid, the man who writes his obituary. A doer not a story teller!” 

I sat in silence looking at her for, perhaps, a fifteen second period; my brain churning as I tried to imagine multiple alternative outcomes of different actions I might take at that point. I was actually close to tears, which really would have been demeaning. It was like being given the most beautiful, delicate and wonderful Christmas present and then having it taken back and smashed to pieces on the floor in front of you. Eventually, I decided that she had a point about demeaning myself so I stood up, with as much dignity as remained to me, ignoring Gibson, who had tottered in with a silver tray on which was placed a decanter of sherry and two crystal glasses, and turned to face her. She stood up too and looked up at me, evenly. “You make your wishes and desires quite clear, Agnes. But I am not to be defeated. I will be that man of adventure you seek! You shall see!” I bowed stiffly to her and left the room, with Gibson putting the tray down with a crash and then desperately trying to get ahead of me so he could give me my hat, coat and umbrella, although the rainstorm had now passed. Indeed, as I stepped out of the front door the clouds parted and a flash of sunlight illuminated the street where I stood. The wet pavement shone gold in the last light of the sun. This must be an omen, I thought; a precursor of better things. I strode off in the direction of South Kensington Underground station and the District Railway towards Charing Cross. I looked at my pocket watch. It was six fifteen and I knew that Britten would likely be just arriving at the Reform Club. “I will show you Agnes Cardwell! I will show you how adventurous I can be!”


Chapter 2 is here.


Notes on this chapter can be found here.

3 comments:

  1. Omg, so much fun! This is great! Next part, please!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent. A well-done pastiche, without crossing the line into parody. Incidentally, the erotica of the time was actually a good deal more explicit.

    ReplyDelete