Title: The Point
Miss Cathcart/Mr Cleveland
Word Count 1057
He turned off from the street. A path of crushed oyster-shells led to the door.
He tucked his hat more closely under his arm. It was his best, his most shore-going hat. He had spent the the forenoon brushing out the cat hair and salt water spots. The day was warm. The walk from the docks had made him sweat slightly. He could feel his best shirt sticking to his back. He knew his face was shining.
He braced his feet for the roll of a deck that was not there. He sucked his stomach in. He raised the door-knocker.
Two knocks, and he heard the sound of hurrying feet. He felt his heart leap.
The face in the doorway was not the one he dreamed of. It was old and worn, and disappointingly male. But it was shrewd, and not unkind.
“Mr Cleveland, come to call on Miss Cathcart.”
He said it firmly. Some ridiculous part of him wanted to say 'Come aboard, Sir.”
The door opened for him.
“She is in the garden, Mr Cleveland. If you would like to wait?”
The servant indicated a chair, it was upholstered in pale yellow. It looked fragile. Cleveland shook his head.
“Or you could go through to the gardens yourself, Sir.” The old man smiled.
“I will.” Cleveland said.
“Just this way,” The old man said.
This was a delicate house, lace and silver, full of pretty things balanced on other things. Christopher felt he would knock it all down if he looked to closely, breathed the wrong way. He hurried through the drawing room, and into the kitchens. He saw only an old woman, obscured below the elbows, stuffing a chicken. She smiled at him too. “She's in the garden, young man.” Cleveland bowed and hastened on.
He opened the door to the kitchen garden. Three steps down. More oyster-shells. They sounded under his feet like surf in the distance. He took a deep slow breath. . Nearest to the door, were the household herbs. Saphronia knew all about them She knew which to apply to burns, which ones to brew into a tisane for derangement of the stomach. She knew which ones tasted best with beef, too. She had a small book where she kept such things written. She would take this book, he knew, when she left this house. She would take it to her marriage.
He could smell the leaves of the herbs, hot under the sun. Further on, down the path were the flowers. Here the wall sent deep shadow, and the grass was still wet .
She had not seen him yet. She was crouched, cutting roses. Her face was shaded by a broad straw hat. Her dress pooled around her feet, wet with dew. It was tucked under her knees, he could see the shape of her bottom. She was wearing a pinafore. He could see where a stray lock of her fair hair had come loose. It tickled at the side of her jaw, and she pushed it back distractedly. Christopher was close enough to see the dark soil of the garden clinging to her hands.
Christopher Cleveland could have stood forever, with the sun on his shoulders, with that feeling in his vitals, making his breath come strange and quick.
But she felt his gaze, and looked up.
She was on her feet, and quick through the grasses and over the shells. Her smile was bright and his alone, and he had barely time to see it. She hit him with the force of a white squall. Her hands on his face, pulling him close for a kiss. He gave a huff of surprise, and she laughed.
Her words tumbled against his mouth.
“I hoped you would come. I was not sure, but I hoped.”
She smelled of the earth, of the roses. He knew that he himself smelled of sweat, but she did not ever seem to mind.
“I have three days.” He gasped. (Three days to spend as much time as I can with you, just this way, between visits with my parents across town. This he did not say, he knew that she understood.)
“Come to the bench,” She said “I have something to tell you.”
She took him by the hand, and he let himself be drawn, around the corner, to the garden bench. Here they were shielded completely from view. Christopher sat, and she came aboard his lap, facing him. She was pressed all against him. He could feel her quick breath, and her legs, which he had never seen . Her feet rested either side of his knees. He could touch her sides, her back. He could feel her soft breasts against his jacket.
He had trailed a hand along her skin, last time, touching her leg, and she had shivered and gasped. But her hand had come down quick, to stop his. “Better not.” She had said. But he knew she had liked it too.
But this time her kisses were restless, she shifted in his lap, moving against the ache of him, as if she ached too.
“Something to tell me?” Christopher gasped. Better to have it now, while some part of him could still think.
“The captain's lady has spoken to Mrs Bracegirdle for me. Oh they are so kind-- you would never believe! And they have written to uncle. And they said that I am to stay with Mrs Bracegirdle, if I like. For as long as I like-- no matter-- no matter what.”
She rolled against him, and this time it was unmistakable. He felt her shiver.
“No matter what, do you understand?” He did not. He knew he was gawping at her like a fool. . Her fine little eyebrows drew together. She clapped onto his shoulders and tried again.
“It means we can do as we like, and not fear any disgrace, if-- if something should happen. We can marry from her house. But we need not wait.”
She said it again. “We need not wait.” And the import of her words became clear. He had grasped the central point.
And smiling, Saphronia reached her dear hand down, and grasped the central point herself.