Status: Very Active [Camp Nanowrimo 2018]

La Douleur Exquise

Chapter Six

Isabella had returned to the room a smile full of mischief upon her lips and a full bottle of scotch clutched between her fingers.

"How-" Alice began but Isabella cut her off with a shake of her head.

"It is not stolen from your father so it does not matter." Isabella simply stated. "Now fetch me a cup and let the night begin as it means to go on."

With a hesitant hand, Alice passed over a porcelain cup that seemed far too delicate for such a strong liquor to be poured into. Expertly, Isabella filled the four cups and return them to her friends who perched nervously on the edge of Alice's four poster, staring at the liquid with uneasy faces.

"I regret suggesting..." Alice drew off, her nose wrinkling in displeasure at the thought of possibly drinking the alcohol. It had initially seemed like a good idea; a way to distract Henrietta from the thoughts of doubt and make her feel comfortable amongst her friends, but as she watched Isabella pour out the drinks she could not help but feel uneasy.

"It only tastes bad for a moment!" Isabella scoffed at her friends nervousness. "It takes just a cup or two for it to begin to taste like honey."

"I truly doubt that." Henrietta replied.

"If it improves your mood, would you wish to watch me drink first?" Isabella asked, raising her cup to show her enthusiasm.

"No, no." Alice interjected. "It would be best if we all drunk together to avoid isolated embarrassment."

"As you wish." Isabella replied with a mock curtsy, her excitement at the prospect of her friends becoming drunk had her barely aware of her friends intense displeasure.

"I will count down." Alice said, though her voice wavered in uncertainty. "One, two, three."

And with that, all four of the girls began to drink. Only a small amount had hit Alice's lips and she was coughing, holding out the cup for someone else to grab so that she would not spill it upon the linens.

"Oh it is foul!" Alice's face was pulled tight in discomfort. "How does my father drink this?"

"Many a year of incessant drinking will harden your body to the taste, though the aftermath of a night of consuming this will still ruin you for days." Isabella explained, her face slightly wrinkly as she drunk but it was evident that she was not a foreigner to the taste of whiskey.

"Sounds unpleasant." Henrietta stated, still holding onto Alice's rejected cup.

Susan took another hesitant sip in the hopes the taste would have improved and the burn would subside, but she pulled back with the tight look of disgust on her face again. "What purpose does it even serve to drink?"

Her father's sermons often did speak of the sins of drink, though Susan had come to see this as the unfortunate men who stumbled home at ungodly hours, beer tankard in hand and bodily fluids down their front. There seemed no joyous nature to be associated with drinking alcohol.

"It is a social thing. In moderation, it sets your body at ease." Isabella explained, taking another sip. "We encourage our guests to drink a glass or two, enough for them to pay heartily but not enough to become unmanageable. It does all of us well that they do not make fools of themselves."

Alice had taken her cup back from Henrietta but had yet to take another drink, instead she quietly swirled the amber liquid with her finger tip. "My brothers used to sneak bottles from packages brought for parties. They seemed to lose inhibitions and dance with every pretty woman. When the morning came they seemed to have forgotten a party ever occurred."

Isabella laughed, "I remember! Algernon was my first formal dance partner, though I think he was already many glasses deep at that point."

"Yes, I remember too." Alice said grudgingly; the drink in her hand suddenly seeming more appealing.

"Why did you wish for us to drink, any how?" Susan suddenly inquired, a suspicious squint in her grey eyes.

To avoid answering Alice and Henrietta took another drink, this time managing to avoid any coughing and unattractive spluttering.

"That bad, hmm?" Isabella seemed eager to learn more now. She placed her drink on the bedside table and grabbed onto the ottoman, pulling it forward so that she could sit comfortably whilst her friends took over the bed.

Alice shot a wary glance towards Henrietta who cautiously nodded, a silent explanation that Alice may say a little.

"It is not bad, it is just something that requires liquid confidence." Alice explained.

Susan's ears perked, her intrigue sparked. Secrets within their group were rare, and even if people retained ones within themselves, it was almost a common decency that if someone was to share that it should be within them all, not just between two.

"There is more to the fiasco in London, is there not?" Susan inquired, leaning forwards to rest her chin on her hand.

Henrietta sighed, blinking rapidly and glancing upwards. "It does not feel apt to call it a fiasco."

"I think the word is perfectly fitting." Isabella added in agreement with Susan. "Alice is known for her dramatics, but our dear Henry, well that is something rather unusual."

Alice rolled her eyes at Isabella's statement but allowed Henrietta to speak.

"I..." Henrietta drew off before gulping in air and holding out her half empty cup towards Isabella. "I need a substantial amount more scotch before disclosing more."

With a smile that mixed both intrigue and dangerous fun, Isabella opened the bottle of scotch and poured more of the liquid into Henrietta's cup. Tonight would be most entertaining for her indeed.


The grandfather clock in the hallway below Alice's room had struck eleven by the time the girls were pleasantly teetering on the edge between tipsy and drunk.. In order for more distance between them and potential prying eyes, they retreated to Alice’s en suite a little before eleven, Isabella already stripped of her elaborate dress and lounging in her undergarments without a care in the world.

They were cross-legged on the floor of the en suite, dresses splayed comfortably as cushions to avoid the unpleasant coldness of the marble floor. The bottle of scotch had emptied quicker than expected and there was about a cup or two worth of liquid remaining.

Henrietta, in a moment of childish playfulness, had decided the floor was vastly to uncomfortable had moved from sitting upon the floor to sitting in the empty porcelain bathtub.

"Ah, much better." Henrietta said with a dizzy giggle. Moving had sent her head spinning and she quickly realised she was perhaps more drunk than she originally believed.

"Now, Henry." Susan had leant forwards so that her chin rested on the edge of the bathtub. "Pray tell, what caused such hysterics at Harrods!"

Henrietta swatted at Susan's face, laughing as Susan flinched backwards in mock horror.

"It was not hysterics, you are becoming delusional in your drunken state!" Henrietta replied, her voice slightly muffled by the giggles that occasionally slipped from her lips.

"Hysterics is a more suiting term for Alice's behaviour." Isabella snickered, but winked at Alice to show she only meant it as a jest.

Alice replied by sticking out her tongue, peacefully happy with her mind slightly cloudy, not conscious enough to fire back any form of wit; her sharp tongue dulled by the coating of scotch.

"So what caused your tears?" Susan asked, diverting the conversation back towards its initial question.

"It is complicated." Henrietta sighed, tilting her head backwards so it rested on the lip of the tub. "I am unsure where to begin."

"May we propose guesses?" Isabella suggested.

Henrietta shrugged, "I can see no harm in doing so."

Isabella and Susan sat quiet for a moment, letting the possible ideas run through their mind in an attempt to find something plausible.

"You're with child!" Susan finally settled on, earning a quick chortle of laughter from Alice who remained sat against the back wall of the bathroom.

"That would be a no." Henrietta reiterated for Alice.

"You tore the dress and did not wish for Alice to pay for it!" Isabella finally settled on.

"I never want Alice to pay for things, but you know that cannot discourage her." Henrietta answered, "But no, that is not correct."

"You are to become a nun?"

"After consuming all this alcohol? Of course not."

"You have a secret lover you wish to runaway with."


"You are engaged to Alice's brothers."


"Yes, both. That is why it is a secret."


"You are actually an owl and this is all an elaborate costume."

"I feel you are no longer taking this seriously."

"She is struggling with understanding her body." Alice finally had left her slumped position at the far side of the bathroom. She came to stand by Henrietta in the bathtub, reaching out and stroking at Henrietta's cheek comforting. "There is a sense of confusion within her mind and she does not feel comfort within herself. Our elaborate shopping trip only caused these feelings to come to rise as she is displeased in the body she has."

Henrietta smiled upwards at Alice, a small smile of thanks upon her pink lips.

"Did I cover everything appropriately?" Alice asked, still caring in her drunken state.

Henrietta nodded. "Yes, thank you Alice."

"Sort of similar to a Molly?" Isabella interjected with a surprising calm and soberness to her voice.

"A Molly?" Henrietta questioned, eyebrow raised.

"A man who chooses to lay with other men or dress in female garments. For some it is just a sexual prevision, but for many who cross dress in such a way it is because they feel much the same as you. As if they were born into the wrong body." Isabella explained. "Men who truly believe that they are women, but they were simply unlucky and were placed into the wrong physical form."

"I..." Henrietta quietened, letting the terminology run through her mind. "Maybe..."

She drew to a silence, pressing her lips tight in furious thought. There was a sense of the masculine ideology Henrietta clung to, and she missed those gender less days of childhood, but to truly be a man... Henrietta was unsure if this was how she felt.

"My head hurts." Henrietta finally settled on, moving her hands upwards to massage her scalp. "I think I need to sleep upon this."

"Let me help you." Alice said, taking Henrietta's hands and helping her out of the bathtub and into the bedroom, leaving Susan and Isabella alone still sat cross legged next to the tub.

"You have been quiet." Isabella noted, nodding towards Susan. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"Men who lay with other men?" Susan murmured aloud.

"Oh Susan, there is more to the underworld of sexuality than I have ever let on."
Susan eyed Isabella quizzically.

"What on earth have you kept from us?" Susan said nervously, unsure of what more there was to tell. Isabella spoke of dreadful things, weaving stories of dominating men and forbidden pleasures that even a married couple would be wrongful to pursue. The prospect of a vast deeper world of same sex relationships and the toying with gender confinements seemed beyond hellish, but it was enticing to Susan rather than terrifying.

Isabella reached for the bottle of scotch, pouring the remains into their cups. "There is a far greater world of sin that men and women come to experience within my brothel."

Susan pondered the words Isabella spoke, nesting her cup of scotch between her fingertips. She should be nervous and afraid of the things Isabella spoke of. Her strict Christian upbringing had been so rigorous in teaching her to be afraid of such sinful behaviours, but she could not help but be intrigued. Many a year ago did she turn her back on the apparent truths of the church and she was filled in a sense of eagerness to exploit the wrongfulness that her father preached against. Isabella had always had been a window to that secret world and she enjoyed learning of the wrongs of the world, but from a distance. There was a vast leap between listening to the sins of others and taking part.

"I feel I may understand more than you would expect." Susan finally settled on. She sipped at her drink, barely flinching at the sensation.

Isabella smiled her usual wicked smile. "I feel that you may be surprised to know I was expecting such a statement."

"What... what do you mean?" Susan was somewhat shocked at Isabella's reply.

"I believe that my words and Henrietta's confession have led to your understanding a part of yourself you chose to remain hidden." Isabella continued, "Consider your many years of rejecting proposals. A woman who has turned down five proposals has a greater motive for remaining unwed than she chooses to let on."

Susan was stunned to a silence.

"You do not seek the romance of men." Isabella smiled, though it was soft and caring rather than it's usual smirk that balanced on the lines of sinful and playful.

"I... do not..." Susan meant it to be a question but found the words slipping out as a confession.

Isabella took a sip from her cup, "Do not fret though my dear Susan. Not many do."

"Do you?" Susan questioned with sharp eyes roaming over Isabella with a new found understanding and intrigue.

The devilish grin pulled back onto Isabella's lips. "I choose to lie with whomever I choose. The sex is insignificant to me."

"Interesting." Susan simply replied, but her mind was fast racing through a whole new realm of sexuality that she had never fully considered. It seemed that the liquid courage had brought more than one girl to a confession tonight.


Henrietta had woken first with the chiming of the grandfather clock downstairs. With a cough she clutched at her head.

"When did that clock become so loud?" She groaned loudly, flopping back onto the pillow.

Next to her Alice slowly grumbled half conscious reply that was muffled by the pillow.

"Pardon?" Henrietta pushed at Alice's body, urging her to turn over from where her head had been shoved into the pillow.

"I have a damned headache." Alice repeated. She opened her eyes and squinted.

"Wait." Henrietta was suddenly aware of the emptiness of the bed in which they lay. "Where are Isabella and Susan."

"I do not know or care at present." Alice replied, flopping back into the pillow. "It is much too early for such nonsense."

With a sigh Henrietta climbed from the bed and headed towards the en suite, hopeful her friends had remained there over night.

Isabella and Susan were sprawled across the bathroom floor in a mass of towels constructed into some for of rudimentary mattress. Susan was still clad in her dress from the previous day, but the extensive skirts had been pulled over Isabella's body as she lay sleeping in her chemise; her long legs exposed. It was an almost amusing sight, though Henrietta doubted that they would feel the same way.

"Isabella. Susan." She said sharply, earning annoyed noises in response from the sleeping girls.

"What is the matter?" Isabella responded angrily, her eyes still closed.

"Would you not prefer a bed?" Henrietta's headache had quickly alleviated at the sight and she giggled as the two girls grumbled unhappily.

"This is suitable." Isabella waved her had weakly to dismiss Henrietta as she rolled over closer to Susan, tucking her legs upwards so the skirts of Susan's dress covered her more.

"Suit yourself." Henrietta replied, leaving the pair on their mattress of towels and returning to Alice's bed chambers.

"Find them?" Alice had become more awake in Henrietta's brief departure and now sat up in her bed.

Henrietta nodded and climbed back into the bed. "Cuddled like babes on the bathroom floor."

"How civilised." Alice laughed, moving over to make space for Henrietta.

"Quite." Henrietta moved closer to Alice, pulling the blankets up to her chin and resting her head upon Alice's shoulder.

They sat in peaceful silence, enjoying the quietness and each others reassuring company. There was some sort of deeper bond formed between them after these days prior. Though they had spent many years together and experienced many a dark time in each others arms, there was some barrier which had broken between them. The shared weight of emotional baggage had broken down that wall of defensiveness that every person had. Deepest secrets had been shared and Henrietta had shown a level of vulnerability she so often kept hidden.

"How do you feel?" Alice softly said after minutes of silence.

"Good." Henrietta replied. "I did not expect this sense of ease."

She returned to quiet for a moment, "I still do not fully understand myself. What Isabella said made a little clarity out of the nonsense, but there is so much more to understand."

Alice nodded, "Do not fret about it. I am here for you no matter where your mind takes you."

"Even if it drives me to an asylum."

"Even if it drives you to an asylum."

Henrietta smiled, searching for Alice's hand under the duvet. Their fingers touched under the quilt and grasped onto each other tightly; the contact a silent pact of never ending friendship.