“Do you have any questions? You must always feel free to ask anything you like, no matter how improper you think it to ask. To you, my life shall be an open book, and you will eventually understand that I will insist upon the same courtesy from you. For you see, you will be my teacher as much as I will be yours. So, ask me anything. I know there are things now overwhelming your thoughts, yes?”
Veronica thought for a moment before answering, trying to walk her way through the information without stumbling.
“No, not overwhelming so much as confusing. I want to believe you’re a good woman. I know you to be such a good and kind woman, but I still cannot understand why you would have done such a thing with the General, to say nothing of keeping his wife and daughter housed under your very roof.”
The Marquesa was finally satisfied the girl would not disappoint her in the end, regardless of the difficulties she now faced.
“Well, there is the pleasure of our relations, of course. Like Don Eduardo, I enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. And he brings me a great deal of pleasure.”
Veronica was stumped, utterly and honestly. Pleasures? But then, there seemed to be something hidden behind all of this, some misunderstood truth attempting to reveal itself, a profound secret that she already knew about. “But I don’t understand, what pleasures do you mean?”
The girl’s words were still on her tongue when it struck Marcelina that she had been mindlessly naive to begin this education with ridiculous assumptions. How could she have ever hoped to carry on this conversation with her sister’s child when it was so obvious that the girl did not have the foggiest notion of what sex was, to say nothing of its hold on the mind.
“No, my dear, you should not understand, but I will see to it that you shall soon enough.”
The Marquesa rose from the sofa and began to wander about the room. “I’m afraid I must throw you out from the nest before I can continue in your education. You will not truly understand anything I will say to you until you have explored sex for yourself. I can talk forever, but you must have the opportunity to experience the sensation before I am to have any hope of making clear the purpose of my instruction.”
She seemed now to speak to herself as if she were alone. “Yes, I think we must do this. It is the best way, I think. It’s the only way, I’m afraid.”
“I don’t understand you at all,” Veronica said, agitated by the woman’s resolve to exclude her from the discussion at this moment.
And lifting the fog from her eyes, her aunt pierced through the girl’s misunderstanding. “You will remember that I am your teacher in this venture, and you will do as I instruct.”
Marcelina’s tone had altered considerably. She retained her patience but assumed a new attitude of control that Veronica had not heard from the woman before. She was taken by it at once and found that she couldn’t help but submit.
Holding her niece in her stare to be certain of their agreement, Marcelina continued. “Tonight, I will make arrangements for you to be alone and in your bed by ten o’clock. At such time, I will have seen to it that a gentleman has been predisposed to assist me in your education. He will arrive at the stroke of eleven, and you will be prepared to accommodate him in any manner that he wishes.” The woman was now gentle, though quite serious in her tone. “As you are a virgin, it is in your best interest to see to it by then that you have taken the responsibility of breaking your hymen. I will provide you with the proper instrument to accomplish this.”
Again, the girl stared with helpless eyes. “Hymen? Break my hymen? What does that mean?” And it was of no surprise now to Marcelina that the girl hadn’t the slightest idea of what this meant either.
She sighed, falling out of her newly acquired sternness to explain a great deal of female anatomy and Roman Catholic culture, which she cursed her sister for not having the inclination to share with the girl. She went even further to explain the anatomy of men, remembering within moments to use Eduardo as a model. “But don’t expect to come across many such as him,” she remarked off-hand.
“I don’t understand you. You would have me corrupt myself, as you put it, even before you will have this man corrupt me in his own way?”
Corrupt, the woman thought, cringing to herself for having used this word while explaining the act. Her frustration privately mounted for having been so careless and misleading. She was reminded that there were certain parts of her vernacular, of her mother’s education, which would reside in her subconscious forever, regardless of how adulthood may have intervened to correct it. Better to explain it all in due time.
“Forgive me, I misspoke. Not corrupt, but rather prepare yourself. It will be disastrous for your future self-image if you allow this man to take it from you, and I will not have your first memories of sex be plagued with the uncomfortable inconvenience of being injured in such a way.”
Injured! She winced at the very sound of the word escaping her own lips. It seems to pour out of me, these mindless descriptions, she thought, at the moment when I am forced say it all aloud.
“It is not that I wish to deprive you of the natural experience, don’t misunderstand me. But the offering of your virginity doesn’t lie in the breaking of your maidenhead, but rather in the giving of your body in love by your free will. It should be your responsibility to prepare yourself for this event, and removing your hymen is the first of many steps you must take to ready yourself.
“Secondly, you will have taken the opportunity to dress for the occasion, and by this, I mean that your nightgown shall have been removed so that he will not have to go through the ritual of seductively getting you out of it. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not an opponent of seduction, but there is a time and place for it. This will not be some grand operatic sequence. Your objective is to merely experience the physical act itself, and only to truly learn what it means. You are to be naked under the sheets of your bed as you await him, ready to receive him without hindrance or fuss.
“Next, you must understand that the man I choose for you will not necessarily be the most accommodating of lovers, he should not even be viewed as a lover. Indeed, he will not be. I expect you to be prepared to experience the physical actions, even if you find that you are unable to fully grasp the mental pleasures; the sought-after goals of sex. If you choose to relax and give yourself to it, some measure of pleasure will find its way to you. And understand, while he is with you tonight, you will not concern yourself with whether he is enjoying himself. I would have you remain fixed only upon your more selfish designs this one time. The truth of the matter is that a man will always experience these pleasures, for it is virtually impossible for a man not to. And it will be fairly evident when he has finished, not merely from the deathly finality that will overcome him, but also because I will have instructed him to quickly dress and leave you there. Do not think it necessary to speak to him at any time. You will save any questions for me.”
The precision of her teacher’s instructions seemed too well-considered for the girl to ask anything at all. Veronica was horrified by all of this, almost numb from the idea of being naked in front of a stranger. She did not even attempt to clear her throat before her aunt continued.
“When he has finished, and has left you, you will come to me and we will continue where we have left off here. At no time should you fear for your safety with this man, for I will not choose for you someone who is reckless or insensitive to your situation. But you must take note and remember that when a man is in the throes of his passion, he will often become another being. His reason and rationality may leave him for a short time. If you feel that he is too rough with you, intentionally or not, this one time you will do everything in your power to keep this truth from him as much as you can. I assure you, I will see to it that he is as gentle with you as possible.
“Again, the point of this exercise is for you to feel everything you can, to take note of it all. And if at any moment, you too experience the pleasures he is feeling, I want you to give your mind over to those sensations and allow them to engulf you. Don’t worry about anything that you do not understand, dear. All of it will reveal itself to you in its own time. It is better perhaps that you don’t understand everything before it happens. Apprehension has a way of marring the senses.”
Veronica was too fascinated by everything that Marcelina had told her to be concerned about her appearances; that seemed to be all past now. It was too intriguing, this idea of her aunt’s, which eluded her still. She resolved to give herself over to the cause of the assignment, even though she did not understand. For all of her confusion and misgivings, Veronica was confident that everything to happen by her aunt’s decree was in her best interest.
“I will do as you say.”
With this submission, the woman’s face relaxed, and she moved her head to indicate that they should both leave the room. Walking slowly together, Marcelina added one final bit of instruction. “Now, I have much to do to prepare for your lesson tonight, so you will assist me by going about today as if nothing were unusual. Do your very best to appear happy and without alarm or anxiety. It is important that you not alert the staff to what we are undertaking in any way. They will be a greater enemy to you than any indiscreet lover could ever be. There is only one here that you could ever hope to trust, my Dolça. But one hint that something is suspicious with you, and the others will make it their mission in life to uncover it, and then take the prestige allotted in revealing it to every servant in the neighborhood. This would mean disaster for my purposes, and you must see to it that there is no possibility of it ever happening.
“I know you keep a diary, which I assure you, is read by someone in this house. Do not trust diaries with your truly important secrets, and certainly never write a word of what we will accomplish.”
“I understand,” Veronica answered, staggered that someone would violate her in that way. “I will write nothing of this, I swear.”
“Good. Now, go about your day, my love. By the end of the week, I will have given you the foundations of character that you will need to choose any man you wish to be your suitor. And remember that I love you, dear!” said the Marquesa, erupting as if she were afraid she had forgotten to make it clear. With a final kiss on the cheek, Marcelina left her and turned back toward her rooms.
Astonishment—it was a word that Veronica did not fully understand until she attempted to make sense of her present feelings. To say that she had been brought from exaltation to surprise and back again was only the beginning of what she felt toward this constant series of changes over the last two days. It was incredible to her that so many things could happen in such a short span of time.
What had her life been before she had come to this house?
Veronica stood frozen in the hallway, staring at a portrait of a woman who appeared as she might expect to when she reached her late sixties. The woman’s expression was somber and dignified. Veronica’s eyes couldn’t have been forced to leave the canvas. She was compelled to examine every line, every expression of color, until she could no longer see the elderly woman, but rather the girl she once might have been. Beneath the figure captured, there was a shy, unsuspecting girl without any knowledge of the underside of society, the great production of secrecy that Veronica was only beginning to see. She knew that the regal woman in the portrait could be a promise of her future, the result of accepting this secret knowledge.
After a time, she moved away from the portrait and set about to roam through the castle, desperate for anything distracting to turn her thoughts upon. Veronica would have to scream at the top of her lungs to release this strange anticipation burning in her shoulders. She would not make it through the day to dinner if someone in this slumbering house did not wake and talk to her about the weather or how green the grass was. Anything, Lord, just to make the anxiety stop!
In the distance down the hall, Veronica heard footsteps and the sound of people engaged in conversation. She was terrified of allowing them the slightest sight of her, terrified of running down to them and pouring out the contents of her soul.
Veronica found the doors to the east sitting room fixed open, and she slipped through them as quietly as possible to find Doña de Flores and her daughter entertaining a priest touring from the Vatican.
“Veronica, come and meet Father Mateu,” the woman called out to her with unusual gaiety.