One, two, three, four...
Zachary counts the steps as if their number were significant. It is not. Counting is a dodge to keep at bay misgivings.
She cared for me; she cares—obliged to or not.
He pauses—palms clammy, heartbeats echoing in his ears. The stairwell, narrow and oppressive, is thick with sultry darkness.
She is property, regardless, and property cannot baulk, refuse, or in any way dispute its owner's legal right—moral right, forsooth; did not the Lord give Man dominion?
He resumes climbing.
A lamb does not its shepherd's staff avert. If I desire a thing, must not that thing comply?
Again he hesitates.
Except to force one's will is to damage self-esteem. Surely an inferior ought to welcome congress with her better—else the act be reduced to a barnyard brand of husbandry... if, that is, I intend thereby to procreate, father a bastard half-breed; which I do not. Spawn of that low ilk would surely sully the line of Squire.
Contradictory arguments paralyze Zachary's hand—closed on the attic entry's doorknob, its brass a cool departure from the overheated atmosphere.
Let pleasure be my purpose, then—mine to be exacted. Unless it was affection more than duty that inspired Jewel's ministrations... in which case my craving might be matched by hers, much preferring me to some uncultivated field hand oblivious to her worth, heedless of her sweetness, undiscerning of her scent, disregardful of her beauty...
The doorknob turns.
...for Jewel is beautiful, her colour notwithstanding, her blue-black hue, if truth be told, seductively taboo—tempting past the point of explanation or redemption should a break of sorts result.
Zachary enters. Jewel is waiting, cowering, shrinking from a fate she fears foregone. Once again she has to shield her nudity.
"Go 'way, please, Massah!"
Her tone, though meek, is unequivocal; Zachary falters... rallies... wavers... plagued by indecision, bolstered by desire, overcome by a change of heart—diverting course of action.
He takes a step... then another... which conducts him to the bed, its mattress flush with
the framing, its bottom sheet taut
as they fan from the figure huddled at the far-side corner's edge—tip-to-toe concealed by
an ineffectual coverlet... that Zachary tugs,
strips off, to unveil skin slick as lanolin,
ankles, now in his grasp, pried determinedly apart, affording him a glimpse,
more enticing a whiff, of her undefiled vagina, hymen
still protective, virtue still intact despite an
institutional sanction authorizing otherwise, despite a Master-would-be-ravisher—once compromised by gin—sober
this time, save for inhalations of inebriating scent, Jewel's leached
inadvertently, panic in her eyes... then surprise... then
tense anticipation, braced against the pain of her maidenhead's pending breach, mind beleaguered
by shame, body by sensations