by Jean Roberta
In Victorian novels (as well as those from earlier eras), heroines are saved from starvation and disgrace by offers of marriage from gentlemen of means, or by inheriting money from unexpected sources.
I seem to be a Victorian heroine, not that I was facing starvation or any more disgrace than I’ve faced for the past forty-some years.
Last week, I went to a lawyer’s office to pick up a very large cheque (5 figures in Canadian money) and bring it to the bank to park it in the joint account I share with my spouse Mirtha. This windfall is the last installment of my inheritance from my parents, who both passed away in 2009. There will be no more money from that source, and I will probably never hear from my two sisters again, since they will have no reason to forward me their emails about family financial affairs.
The amount in my bank account is already earmarked for some big projects: fixing the roof of the house where my younger stepson lives, still owned by Mirtha and me, and renovating the basement of our own house. (Since all the stuff down there will have to be cleared out, this project can wait until spring.)
I’ve already registered us to attend Eroticon in London, England, in March 2018. I hope we can meet up with erotic writers I already know.
I’m not sure an inheritance can be considered a “triumph,” since I didn’t do anything to earn it, but it’s certainly good news.
A character in my most recent story is saved from entering the oldest profession by parallel news about money from an estranged relative. The story itself is far from a triumph, since it was rejected by Delilah Devlin for her upcoming “bad boys” anthology about pirates. She explained that some of the stories she received had enough sex in them, but not enough romance for her "bad boy" series. Fair enough.
Considering that my story, “Launched,” takes place in the imaginary world of my novella, The Flight of the Black Swan, romance between a woman and a man would be quite a stretch.
The narrator, Lady Florinda, escapes from the family mansion in 1861 rather than be forced into an arranged marriage. She dyes her hair and finds a job as a barmaid called Flossie in a certain pub, the Fairy Ring, that caters to the Green Men’s Society of gentlemen who prefer other gentlemen.
Two of Flossie’s devoted customers turn out to be bisexual, and the three of them enjoy a romp in her little bed-chamber, where her two friends encourage her to join them on a stolen ship, The Black Swan, to evade the police. She says she just couldn’t, but tells them she will join the demimonde on land.
One of the men, himself a nobleman in disguise, gives her some good news:
Bruce used his shirt to wipe my face, my belly and my thighs. “Dearest, please don’t sell yourself to every man in London. I couldn’t bear to think about the treatment you could receive. You have resources, you know.”
If he meant my face and my body, how else could I use them except to barter for the necessities of life?
He changed the topic of conversation, or so I thought. “Did you ever hear of Lady Cassandra Hightart, your father’s cousin and my aunt by marriage?”
“Yes,” I told him, “but she never came to visit. I thought her cold and rude, or possibly insane.”
“That’s what you were told.” The look of sympathy in Bruce’s ocean-blue eyes was unsettling. Colin looked from one of us to the other as though watching a game. Or a duel.
“Your father never forgave her for leaving most of her fortune to you in her will. She took a fancy to you when you were a tiny girl just learning to speak, and you asked to use her parasol to shelter your favorite doll from the rain. She decided that if she never had children, she would make you her heiress. That was why she was banned from your house.”
For a moment, I was speechless. Bruce held me as I tried to digest the news.
“She has gone to her reward, as you probably know.”
“I didn’t.” I was growing indignant at my father, whose control over me was more important to him than my welfare. My mother surely would have protested against his methods had she lived.
“How smashing!” said Colin. “You’re going to be a lady indeed. Not to us, though.” He squeezed one of my nipples.
My body reacted, but my mind was whirling. “What do I need to do?” I asked Bruce.
“Before we go to sea, I shall introduce you to the solicitor handling the will. After that, it should be a simple matter of blocking your father’s interference. You’ve come of age, so he can’t claim to act in your behalf.”
Tears poured from my eyes, but now they were signs of joy. “Thank you,” I sniffed. “Thank you for this.”
“You can still whore about,” Colin advised me. “All the best ladies do.”
Another consideration presented itself to me. “How long have you known about Lady Cassandra’s will?”
Bruce looked away from me. “I knew before my own disgrace. Then, of course, I was banished from my own home, and I never had a chance to speak to you before finding you here. Why would I tell you something that might send you away from me? From us.”
So Bruce had resigned himself to my refusal to join him on a stolen ship, even if Colin hadn’t.
All we three had left to do was to clean up after ourselves in every sense. Luckily, there was some water in the pitcher on my trunk, which I used as a dressing-table, and I poured it into the basin to wash myself as well as I could.
I would have many opportunities for luxurious baths in hot soapy water in the future. For now, I wished to make myself presentable while avoiding an emotional scene with my two dear friends, from whom I would soon be parted. When I wiped my cunny with the edge of my wash-cloth, it was smeared with blood.
“Flossie.” Bruce’s low voice sounded almost like a lullaby. “Please let me keep the evidence as a souvenir.” He pulled the cloth from my hand, and I let it go. If he wanted a souvenir of my entry into sexual womanhood, that meant he didn’t intend to forget me.
We were all washed with tears again when we said our private goodbyes. Colin looked very downhearted when he realized that our paths had already diverged considerably. “We can send you letters,” he promised. “I’ll bring paper to write down our adventures, and when we meet other ships, I’ll ask them to take our epistles to you, in care of Mr. Robin Straw at The Fairy Ring.”
“I’ll watch for them, Colin. Please write to me too, Bruce. If you wish to send me private messages in code, use French or Latin, and I will use a dictionary to decipher them.”
My hairy, muscular man pressed me to his chest, and I could feel his heart thumping. “We’ll return someday, Florinda, and we hope you won’t shun us when we do.“
“Not even if I’m the wife of a prince. I wouldn’t marry any of them, but if I did, you would still be my honored guests.” For that, I received a kiss on the mouth from the man who held me, and a playful smack on the bottom from the other.
Bruce reluctantly opened his arms to let me dress myself in clean underthings and the same gown in which I had come upstairs, in what felt like a different age. I couldn’t afford to stop appearing as Flossie the Raven-Haired Barmaid until my affairs were settled.
And that is how I was launched into my present life, before the Black Swan played a celebrated part in the American war, and returned home in triumph. Just as my heart-brothers, the Green Men, have no regrets for anything they have done, neither have I.
I don’t know when this story will be launched on the world, but it probably won’t be any time soon. It could become part of a fleet of stories in the world of the Green Men.
Since I’m not planning to quit my job, however, I have a mountain of student essays to mark before launching into any new writing projects.