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A Parisian encounter
By Aimée


Chapter 1

Risking a glance at her aunt Anne, who was enjoying a post-prandial nap in the comfortable armchair of the sitting-room at the Pension Daubigné, Anne tiptoed to the door, which thankfully had been oiled to perfection and did not betray her. She crept down the stairs and was soon out in the busy street, where peddlers, newspaper boys and carriages competed to add to the noise and the bedlam. In her great coat, leather boots and black velvet breeches, with her hair curled and tightly tied back, she made a very convincing young man. She would never have dared at home, of course, and was well aware that if she happened to be discovered in this outfit by a member of the gendarmerie, she would be in deep, deep trouble. The knowledge that what she was doing was quite illegal in Paris did add a little spice to the adventure, though – and Anne had never been one to shy away from adventure. Which was, in fact, why she was going to attend Monsieur Chaussier's anatomy lecture and dissection session. As a woman, she would be stopped at the gates of the faculty of medicine, but as a man, she could blend in with the crowd of students. It had not been easy to get the outfit, but she had bribed one of the servants of the pension, and the maid had fulfilled her task very adequately.

Three-quarters of an hour later, she arrived rue de l'Ecole de Medecine, joined a group of young men going in and followed them into a large amphitheatre. The benches were occupied by other rather raucous young gentlemen who were disguising their unease by making coarse jokes and laughing loudly at them. The cause of their unease laid on a wooden table below – the corpse of a woman, middle-aged, naked, her abdomen obscenely swollen and marked by a deep hastily sutured red gash. Besides her on the slab, a purple lump of flesh. Anne had never considered herself squeamish, but the sight and the smell of decaying flesh made her reach for her handkerchief, which she had drenched in cologne. She buried her nose in it, hiding her face and inhaling deeply. She did not greatly fear being recognised as a specimen of the same sex as the one laying on the table, but it would not do to be too conspicuous.

She had, Anne reflected, managed not to disgrace herself by fainting, but her face was probably as ashen as the marble pillars of the university and she did not stride quite as fast as usual when she got out of the room. It had been fascinating to see the innards of the woman and to examine the deformities of the stillborn baby, but the stench had grown steadily during the three hours and her stomach revolted. Maybe she ought to eat something. A small glass of spirit would be a good idea too, but harder to obtain. She stopped at a boulangerie and bought four macarons, which she devoured while walking back.

Deep into her thoughts as she neared the pension, she walked straight into a young woman who swayed, stumbled on the uneven cobblestones and fell. Her companion, a nun in black habit and wimple, cried out and bent to offer a hand but Anne was faster. Putting a knee down on the muddy pavement, she extended her hand and helped the young woman up. Their gazes met and Anne smiled in appreciation of the violet eyes and the fresh face. Although her clothes were rather severe – and now very dirty – Anne judged her not over twenty, a few years younger than herself. She mentally cursed the fact that she was wearing breeches – she would not have minded pursuing the acquaintance further. As it was, she made her voice as deep as possible and offered a thousand apologies for her clumsiness. The nun scowled, the young woman blushed and Anne cursed her bad luck again. The girl was really very pretty, but the odds were that she would never see her again. She made her way to the back door of the pension and slipped in unnoticed. After changing into her regular sable skirt and waistcoat with a clean white shirt, she went back to the sitting-room, where she found her aunt in deep conversation with a matronly woman.

"Oh, Anne, there you are – I was wondering where you had been. This is Mrs Winslow. Her daughter was at a convent here in Paris and will be travelling back to England with her. Madame introduced us. Mrs Winslow, this is my niece, Miss Lister."

Madame is a busy-body, thought Anne, but in this case she did me a good turn. The owner of the pension had probably thought that two British women just had to want to meet. In this instance, the newcomer had kept her aunt busy, and that suited her own purpose. After having greeted Mrs Winslow cordially, Anne rang for a cup of tea and retreated to a corner of the room with the Dictionnaires des sciences médicales de Monsieur Virey, intend on looking up what she had seen at the faculty of medicine. Although she had already managed to see the dissection of an old man the previous week, this one was much more interesting. The way the matrix had been dilated… In the words of Monsieur Virey, " « tout individu femelle est uniquement créé pour la propagation ; ses organes sexuels sont la racine et la base de toute sa structure : Mulier propter uterum condita est ; tout émane de ce foyer de l'organisation, tout y conspire dans elle. » Every female individual has been solely created for propagation ; her sexual organs are the root and the basis of all her structure; […] everything emanates from this centre of organisation, everything conspires there inside her. Anne strongly disagreed with that. A woman was no broodmare or laying hen. Women had intelligence and wits and principles, sometimes, or even often, more than men. Moreover, she had seen for herself that a woman alone or in companies of other individuals of her sex could enjoy many pleasures of the flesh… Anne was fuming internally and mentally drafting a letter to that Monsieur Virey when someone came into the sitting-room. Hearing the door and Mrs Winslow greeting someone and introducing her to Aunt Anne as "my daughter, Ada Winslow", Anne turned and stifled a small gasp she turned into a fit of coughing. How was she going to get out of that scrape? Ada Winslow was wearing another rather non-descript grey dress – clean – and by the way she was looking at her, it was obvious it wouldn't take her long to put two and two together and to say something very compromising. Anne had seen a glimpse of recognition in the violet eyes, which were now full of puzzlement.


Chapter 2

Aunt Anne introduced her niece in turn and Anne decided she had to take swift action.

"Miss Winslow. Delighted to make your acquaintance. I wonder if you would be interested in seeing the Calais lace I bought for my sister. I am sure you will wish to purchase new clothes whilst you are in Paris."

She smiled broadly at the young woman, compelling her to agree, and indeed, so she did. Anne led the way to the bedroom she occupied in the pension and closed the door behind them. She offered a seat to Ada Winslow and immediately came to the crux of the matter. She knelt besides the armchair and put a hand on Miss Winslow's skirt. The young woman did not shy away and Anne thought wryly that everything one read about convent schools in France was probably true… Young women there learnt many things and Diderot had not much fantasised… Like Sister Suzanne, Ada Winslow may well have regretted not being born "ugly, stupid and vain". The young former couventine was certainly far from ugly, and she did not look stupid either. As she let her hand wander upward on the black silken fabric, Anne spoke up softly: "Miss Winslow, I have to beg you for mercy. I have, this afternoon, been indulging in a deception which cannot be revealed to anyone, especially not to my aunt. It was a very innocent deception, born of an insatiable interest of mine for science and medicine, and I sincerely hope you shall not feel obliged to tell of my subterfuge. My purpose was no more nefarious than to gain access to the faculty of medicine and a dissection, and although I am making you an accomplice, it is in a harmless escapade."

As she spoke, Anne caressed the black silk and felt the younger woman shiver slightly under her touch. She lifted her face to meet her eyes, and in their violet opalescence she read understanding and what she fancied was a touch of more than sympathy.

"Miss Lister. I shall keep your secret, do not worry. I have had to keep several during my years at the convent, and yours seems indeed to be one of the most innocent ones. I… To tell you the truth, I envy your courage. I wish I was as brave. I am supposed to go home and marry – marry well, marry to please my parents. I have no interest in that. I would like to become a scholar – one of those bluestockings so reviled by society."

Anne rose from her kneeling position and half-rose on her knees. Her fingers brushed against the pert young bosom, well-hidden under layers of strict material, and came up to cup her companion's chin. "I can see we shall get on very well together, Miss Winslow. You probably have no interest in the latest Parisian fashions, but perhaps you shall allow me to escort you to some of the more interesting sights this city has to offer. Surely your mother would let me act as…" She paused and nibbled on her lower lip, just a little…"Your…chaperone?"

"I'm sure this…this would be acceptable, Miss Lister, as my mother seems to have struck a friendship with your aunt," breathed Ada Winslow, letting herself be drawn nearer by the long fingers.

"Would you accept a token of our newly formed entente, then, Miss Winslow?"

"What do you have in mind, Miss Lister?"

The two faces were not more than one or two inches apart, and when Anne leant in and her lips sought the offered mouth, it surrendered easily. One hand wandered on Miss Winslow's nape, this other one sought the firm breasts under the corset. Remembering she had not locked the door, Anne regretfully put an end to this most enjoyable tryst after only a few minutes. Ada Winslow hurriedly put a few golden locks back in their place as they heard footsteps on the stairs, and Anne got out the length of Calais lace…

"This concert was most enjoyable, Miss Lister – thank you so much for taking me."

Anne Lister had thought the violinist had been doing a very good impression of a yowling cat and the cellist of a dying swan, but she had not been displeased by the company. At one point, in the darkened concert hall, Miss Winslow had let her head drop on Anne's shoulder, and now they were going to diner together at the pension, both Aunt Anne and Mrs Winslow having already retired for the night.

After a supper of vichyssoise, poulet en galantine and peaches, they both retired to Anne's room, Anne having discovered an urge to show a book to Miss Winslow. The bed, however, had more of an attraction, and Ada Winslow suddenly found she was feeling a little faint and had to lie down. Of course, Anne then had to help her unlace her corset to help her breathe and her hands found their ways along the boning…under the boning…under the petticoats…and much further.

In the early hours of the morning, Ada Winslow crept discreetly to her own bedroom. Anne got a little more sleep and was woken up by the morning sun. She found a quill, her diary, and wrote: "A good kiss last night. Miss W. suits me well & I fancy she likes me well enough."


The End

VIREY Jean-Joseph, 1815, « Femme », Dictionnaire des sciences médicales, Paris, Panckoucke, t . 14, pp. 503-659.

"Six small gauze curtains, another curtain in grey percaline, four other curtains in calico, a carrick in hazelnut serge, a redingote in hazelnut serge, a pair of grey linen trousers, a hazelnut serge waistcoat, velvet and black cotton breeches in velvet, a pair of serge gaiters and two small white linen sheets, total value 50 francs"

Trousers had to be worn under the dresses by women at that time – actually, it was illegal for women to wear trousers at that time, since a 1800 act stipulating that women wearing men's clothes would be arrested unless they had a special police dispensation…

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