Under a Stern Reign, page 17
She headed towards it, still on the overgrown path, and then a sight suddenly caught her by surprise and held her in her tracks.
Not far from the water’s edge there was a fallen tree, and on it sat a few figures. They had their backs to her and were observing something, chatting and giggling, and Genevieve realised they were some of Conde de Agora’s maids.
She recognised Flavia and Fulvia first, sitting side by side. Next to them was the girl who had served her breakfast that morning, and beside her was a girl Genevieve recognised but whose name she didn’t know.
Just in front of them Genevieve spotted another figure, a slender blonde girl standing before an easel upon which was a canvas. Although she was of slim build she had quite broad shoulders, and she wore a flowing white cotton dress. She held a brush in one hand and her face flitted intensely from the canvas to whatever scene was taking place in front of the sitting maids, out of Genevieve’s view.
However, as Genevieve looked at the girl’s face she gasped and her hand rose to her mouth in shock, her eyes widening, for she could not help but notice the wispy moustache and small beard on her chin. The girl was not actually a girl after all! Or if she was, she was some kind of a freak!
Despite her initial revulsion Genevieve could not suppress her curiosity, and she carefully edged closer to the surreal scene, her eyes on the freaky artist. He was about the same age as her, she guessed, not much taller, very slightly built and now noticeably effeminate, although the moustache and beard were in truth no more than sparse and wispy bristles.
His blond hair was curly and long, and his chiselled face was stern with concentration. He was quite beautiful after all, Genevieve reflected, amazed that now the initial shock had passed she could actually find him attractive instead of being utterly repelled by the sight of him.
Beside him was a folding stool, upon which he had set his paints and an open book. By now she was mere yards from the small, idyllic clearing, concealed by the thick undergrowth and stepping as lightly as possible, but still she could not see what it was the maids were observing and the artist depicting.
Engrossed by the scene before her she carefully crept another few paces forward, but a dry branch snapped underfoot. The maids looked around, and spotting her immediately they jumped up and raised the alarm. The artist stopped painting and looked too, and as they all moved the scene in front of them became visible to Genevieve for the first time.
It was Ana and two other maids. They lay naked, as still as statues, the more slender two with their limbs entwined around the busty girl in an amorous pose of seduction.
One girl held Ana around the shoulders while cupping one of her breasts, her lips by her ear as if whispering something to her. The other held Ana around the waist and dangled grapes before her mouth.
They were the last to notice Genevieve, and on doing so instantly dropped their pose and became agitated. Vexation immediately crossed the artist’s face and the maids were fretting, anxious to escape the scene.
‘That will be all for today, girls,’ the artist said brusquely to his naked models, clearly annoyed at having his scene disturbed. ‘I’m nearly done anyway, so you may dress now.’
Ana and the two other naked maids stood up, looking from Genevieve to the artist before hurriedly taking their clothes from next to the trunk upon which the other maids had sat. He took some money from his purse and distributed it to the three, but the irritation on his face soon faded, seemingly transfixed by the sight of Genevieve. She stepped to one side to let the jittery maids file past her and back up the path leading homeward.
He was looking intensely at her, so she returned his stare for a few moments before starting to turn. ‘Wait,’ he blurted, immediately starting towards her. ‘You can’t simply leave after the interruption you’ve caused.’
‘I did not mean to interrupt anything,’ Genevieve responded curtly. ‘I was simply taking a walk and some fresh air.’
The artist fell silent, his eyes fixed on her, blatantly taking in her beauty without shame. She studied him in return, deciding he was vulnerable and sensitive.
‘You were spying on me,’ he accused her.
‘I was not,’ she refuted.
There was a tenseness between them, and then he laughed and approached her. ‘My name is Frederique de Vaudville,’ he told her, and bowed graciously.
‘Genevieve de Montvert,’ she replied, instinctively starting to curtsey but remembering she was wearing breeches.
‘Genevieve de Montvert,’ he repeated. ‘The name sounds familiar. You’re French... what are you doing here?’
She briefly explained her flight from her country and her stay at Conde de Agora’s residence, although the mention of the man clearly made Frederique edgy.
‘Please,’ he said, ‘I’m an artist, and often, unfortunately, there are elements of art that confuse and disturb others - nudity, for example. But at my present home there is a lack of female form and beauty. Our maids, sadly, are not appropriate for modelling, but the good Conde de Agora’s maids are, and they seemed to have spare time and energy, and are keen to earn a little extra money. Conde de Agora is our neighbour, a wise and good man, but if he knew of this I fear...’
‘Don’t worry.’ Genevieve tried to reassure him. ‘It is not any of my business, so your secret arrangement is safe with me.’
His demeanour brightened instantly, and he began gazing at her intensely again. ‘Would you like to take a look at my painting?’ he asked. ‘It isn’t complete, but...’
Genevieve nodded, smiled, and approached the canvas. The three girls had been painted with such a free depiction that they looked like a very different threesome, she immediately thought. She gazed at it in silence, and Frederique studied her. She did not know what to say.
‘Naturally I find the female subject extremely appealing,’ he said. ‘But my real interest is light and dark.’
Genevieve looked at him, a little unsure of his meaning.
‘It’s been a lifelong fascination of mine,’ he continued. ‘As a boy I would often stare at burning candles in my darkened bedroom. In my fancy I imagined a battle being waged between the light and the dark. The light was seeking to penetrate the darkness, to spread from the candle and banish the darkness and shadows from my room.’
He was looking intently at his unfinished work. ‘Darkness, meanwhile, would be attacking the light back, seeking to enshroud it, to smother it, to snuff it out.’
Genevieve pondered him. Why, she wondered, was he wearing a dress?
‘I’ve been trying to blend these ideas with females and female sexuality,’ he went on, not noticing the scrutiny he was under. ‘Opposites waging war, but opposites always being drawn together.’
‘And the third component?’ Genevieve asked, indicating Ana.
‘That,’ he said, ‘is again a fancy. I would imagine a thin, intangible area between darkness and light, and that’s what she is. It’s a fertile, fragile area from which pleasure and life grow.’
Genevieve was looking at him with deep interest as he contemplated his own painting. She remained silent, and could feel her heart beating and her hands trembling; he was perversely appealing, despite his strange appearance.
‘I - I should be heading back,’ she said quickly, gathering her wits and turning away.
‘You know...’ the artist went on, ‘I wept bitterly when we had to leave our home in Savoy because of the revolution. The mountains and lakes there filled me with so many wonderful dreams, and one constant dream I always had was of a... a particular girl. I never really paid attention to any other females around me. Instead I dreamed of her. I wanted to share my soul with her. I wrote poems to her, poems that only she would understand. I painted pictures which I wanted only her to see.’
Genevieve looked at the painting again.
‘I’ve spent my life waiting for that girl
‘Then you’re very fortunate,’ Genevieve said. ‘And now I really must go.’
‘Wait,’ he said hastily. ‘Please, take this.’ He stooped and picked up the book from the low stool. It was his poetry. ‘I’d be honoured if you would browse the works of my heart.’
She smiled uncertainly, but took the heavy volume.
‘I’ll come and collect it, one day,’ he said, smiling happily, looking almost relieved. ‘What an enchanting model you would make,’ he added suddenly. ‘All the others I’ve painted would look pale in comparison.’ She blushed at his compliment. ‘It’s as if I have found the light, the light side of passion. Perhaps you might let me paint you, one day?’
Genevieve blushed. ‘With, or without clothes?’
‘With or without... your beauty would radiate whatever. If modesty rules you, then with, naturally. But if art is to triumph, I would prefer to depict your beauty unsheathed.’
‘I really must be going,’ Genevieve said, after a pause to consider the sincerity of his accolades. ‘Good day to you, sir.’
He bowed theatrically and held the pose, watching her from his stooped position as she turned and headed back up the path through the bushes.
If it had been Frederique’s motive to immerse Genevieve in deep ponderings and reflection, he succeeded when he gave her his book of poetry. It was certainly heavy going.
She did not just browse it, as he suggested, but instead she read each of over a hundred poems again and again over the ten days or so that followed her encounter with the artist.
They were thick with allusion and metaphor and blended his own fancies and philosophies with his ideals, and his worship of a particular girl.
The girl, however, seemed to change in each poem, and on the whole actually appeared to be two wholly different females. This, Genevieve felt, seemed to correspond in some way to what he had said about light and dark.
The maids were at first shy of her as they passed her in the house, although she was in good spirits. She realised they were afraid that she would report the incident and their activities to Conde de Agora. So, one morning at breakfast, she told Ana and the other two maids clearing the dishes that she would keep the whole affair a secret. They smiled warmly and relaxed, and from then on a complicit friendliness seemed to pervade between her and the serving girls.
Frederique visited her at Conde de Agora’s house three days after they first met. It was a warm morning again, and Genevieve had decided to sit among the lemon trees. He found her there reading his poems.
As on their first encounter, he was wearing a white cotton dress. They greeted each other pleasantly and with great warmth, as if they had known each other for a long time. Soon they began discussing his poetry, and as they did Genevieve looked at him quizzically for a few moments, aware that something about him was different and then realising it was his face. His moustache and beard were gone. She eyed him curiously, thinking that if it were not for the deeper tones of his voice he was almost unrecognisable from a girl.
‘But there seem to be two females, really,’ Genevieve said. ‘You direct your words to two girls - a good one, who is fair, and a bad one, who is dark.’
The young artist smiled and shook his blond locks. ‘Yes and no,’ he said. ‘I do see two forms of the same girl, that complement each other to make up one. However, lightness and darkness have nothing to do with good and bad.’
Genevieve frowned ironically, but the sparkle in his eyes fascinated her.
‘Light has its qualities,’ he continued. ‘Warmth, gentleness, softness, passivity, and the tendency to yield, for example. But it has its detriments, too; fickleness, shallowness, lack of direction, lack of commitment.’
Genevieve continued gazing into his eyes, smiling subconsciously. So strange were the thoughts and reflections that filled the mind of this young man, who looked like a girl.
‘Darkness has its bad qualities. It’s aggressive and destructive. It hates inactivity. It’s mindless and cold. But at the same time, it never flickers from its purpose, direction or commitment.’
She continued smiling wistfully, listening intently to his words.
‘I’d like to paint you now,’ he said coolly. ‘May I?’
She was silent for a moment, caught a little by surprise. Why would he want to paint her? ‘Perhaps,’ she consented. ‘But tell me first, why do you dress as a girl?’
‘Why do you dress as a man?’ he countered immediately, and Genevieve cast her eyes down over her own clothing, forgetting she was once again wearing male cast-off shirt and breeches.
‘I have no other clothes at present,’ she explained. ‘I have no other choice.’
‘Well, I do,’ the artist said. ‘When I was young my sisters thought I would be very pretty as a girl, so they played games dressing me as one. Gradually I began to enjoy it, and now I feel at my happiest this way. My sisters are often jealous; they say I am prettier as a girl than they are. And it helps me when I am thinking, writing and painting.’
Genevieve gazed at him again. His sisters were right. He did indeed make a fine-looking young woman.
‘Ana and the other girls,’ he went on. ‘They have all agreed to come and pose for me again today. I have my easel set and some spare canvases, but I’ve been waiting all morning. Perhaps I could make a start on my painting of you?’ He held out his slender hand.
‘All right,’ Genevieve acquiesced, blushing despite being secretly excited and flattered by the idea. She closed the book and tucked it under her arm, and he took her other hand in his as they wandered through the groves and headed down the track through the woods.
It was pleasant but strange, Genevieve felt, instantly reminded of the times when she had first arrived at Count de Tranville’s chateau, and how she would walk through the countryside with Elise. For a moment she lost herself in the bittersweet memory.
Frederique began humming to himself, smiling at her from time to time, and Genevieve felt that this effeminate young man was more familiar to her than any other person she knew or had known. His blond hair and features were like Emelie’s, she reflected. His full lips were soft and inviting...
Eventually they came to the small clearing again, the easel standing as before, just beside of a small patch of soft leaves and the fallen trunk. The gently gurgling water shimmered with the flickering light of the midday sun, its ripples beating from the fall like a gentle melody.
Frederique led her to the patch of soft leaves. She gazed at it silently; it was there that Ana and the two maids had posed naked in their scene of seduction.
Without saying another word Genevieve placed the book of poetry on the little folding stool that was again faithfully beside the easel, and then slowly pulled off her shirt. The cool air by the water’s edge made her breasts tingle, and her pulse quickened as the artist’s eyes fell admiringly to her stiffening nipples. Then he actually reached out, very slowly, and touched one.
‘How beautiful,’ he whispered.
Careful not to break the gathering spell, Genevieve unfastened her breeches and eased them off her hips and down her thighs, while he watched in silence and in awe. Her smooth legs felt weak as she looked again down at the patch of soft leaves, naked before him.
‘Um, how do you want me to pose?’ she asked tremulously.
He took her hand. ‘You’re tense,’ he whispered. ‘Relax... lie down...’ She sat gracefully on the leaves, which were cold and soft and instantly made her bottom chilly, the intoxicating moment making her feel faint. ‘Lie back,’ he coaxed, then picked up his book of poems and dropped to his knees beside her. ‘Raise your bottom a little,’ he instructed, and when she did he slipped the volume beneath her. It was warmer than the be
And then it was as if she was in a dream, her eyes closed for a few moments that seemed like blissful hours, and upon opening them it took her some seconds to realise where she was. There were sounds of chatter and giggles as the exquisite aftermath of her orgasm ebbed.
She looked up and immediately gasped and blushed. Four of the maids were gazing down at her, smiling, and Ana was whispering to Frederique, clearly discussing her.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said to Genevieve, seeing her rise and the rosy flush of her cheeks. ‘You were tense. It’s not so easy to paint a tense model, so I did what I did...’
Genevieve scrambled up and grabbed her discarded clothes. It was as if what had just happened between them had not happened - or had meant nothing to him, had been prearranged for some deceitful, ulterior motive.
‘You traitor!’ she hissed, hastily grappling her clothes back on.
Frederique reached for her, as though to console her like an adult might a sulking child. ‘But Gen?’
‘Don’t touch me!’ she warned, shucking his hand away from her shoulder as she fastened her breeches and buttoned her shirt, seeing him now as a patronising, duplicitous fraud, not the sensitive and considerate young man she had naively thought him to be.