I step down from the wagon where the woodlands begin, waving Perkins back to the estate. I have my trug, cutting shears and a meager lunch in tow. I’ll wait to gather flowers until I’ve walked to the water, exploring as much of the area as possible. A narrow path takes me downhill where butterflies flit around a toppled gate, lighting on mounds of violets. Their wings are beautiful and transparent, pulsating in bursts of movement.
The day is warm and the air fresh. Being outside invigorates me, reminding me I am alive. I tell myself that I must walk daily to get away from the damp environment of the 400 year old manor, where every room requires a fire on the warmest of days.
The path bends to the right, leading me through a family of beech trees. They crowd together with smooth grey trunks, their light green canopies creating an astonishing cathedral-like impression. They grow tall in competition for the light, having lofty crowns and few lower branches. Squirrels play in the health-filled ground below.
I walk for an hour before resting, then lower myself to the earth, removing a crust of bread and cheese from the corner of the trug. I eat, pausing to breath it all in; the smells, the shafts of light moving through broadleaf branches, the feel of layered earth beneath me. The woods seem to animate as I still myself. Life previously unnoticed teems around me; a fuzzy caterpillar moves from a decayed leaf near my finger, a single moth darts near my knee, and something deep inside, that did not know it was weary, begins to relax.
Even my hearing seems to have deepened, as I notice distant sounds of lapping water beyond, and also voices, women’s voices. I rise, wiping soil from my skirt as I tread softly in their direction.
The voices are closer, speaking a language I do not understand. I walk cautiously until I see them, two women beneath a grove of birch and rowan trees. I gasp, hoping I am not heard as I trespass on this highly private scene.
A large woman stands with her back to me, a single drape covering the top of her legs. The rest of her body is pale and fully exposed, her hair tied in a raven black knot. Her physique is sensual and muscular, falling in soft ripples along her back. She holds out a hand to the other, as if protesting something. The second woman is still clothed. She sits on the earth, having removed one stocking only. It lies white against the dirt. Her full golden skirt and low slung blouse have yet to be removed. She pulls back her hair, fastening it with a linen tie while glancing up at her friend. They are clearly meant to bathe without interruption, interference from garments, or the likes of me. But I do not leave. I am captivated by the complete freedom and femaleness of their behavior. I feel I’ve stepped into a living painting by a great Flemish master. How I envy their carefree lifestyle and open ways.
A twig snaps. I turn to look as a forceful arm snatches my waist from behind, lifting me into the air, my feet dangling helplessly in space.