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The Langham

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Mary Morstan arrived at the Langham Hotel at nine in the morning, clutching a valise and trying not to yawn, her breath clouding in front of her face. But she was excited, as she fumbled over paying the cab driver, and she nearly skipped to the entrance.

It was grander than she had expected. She knew only her boarding school and a little of Edinburgh, but it seemed as if her father must have more wealth than she had thought. Perhaps some prize from India. She craned her neck to look up at the balconies, and then made her way up the steps and out of the cold.

The vestibule was grand as well, and she paused for another second to stare around herself before she remembered her goal and rushed to the desk.

“Good morning. Could you tell Captain Morstan that his daughter has arrived?” she asked the clerk. He summoned a pageboy, but after the lad had departed with his commission the clerk frowned and checked his book.

He said nothing, however, until the boy returned and reported that Captain Morstan was not in his room.

“Not—has he gone out, then?” Mary asked.

The clerk frowned harder. “Yes,” he said, checking the guestbook again. “Captain Morstan went out last night, and has not returned since.”

“Oh,” said Mary, though she did not quite realize the meaning of the words at first. “That’s not like him—that’s odd,” she said, though really she had no idea what was like him—but he was so kind in his letters, so of course it wasn’t. But where—

“You’ve heard nothing?” she said. “He is not—you don’t know if he is injured—”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, miss,” said the clerk. “But it’s early still. He may well come back soon. You may sit and wait for him.”

“Yes,” said Mary, “of course I will.”

At first, she sat reading the novel she had brought with her, but at noon she decided she ought to find herself a meal, even if she must do so alone. She acquired a promise from the desk clerk that he would ensure her father knew she was there when he returned, and then went to the hotel’s dining room to fret over a sandwich and tea.

She had informed him she would be coming on this day. He had wired back that he would meet her at the hotel. He could not have intended to be gone all night, and if he somehow had been kept out he would surely have left a message for her. Surely he would have. Something must have happened to him.

She discovered she was thoughtlessly crumbling a biscuit into powder, and dropped it. She had better pay for the meal herself, she decided—she was not quite comfortable simply adding it to her father’s bill.

She returned to the vestibule, though she could no longer focus on her book, and finally returned it to her bag so she could watch the doors more closely. If something must have happened to him, what was it? She had heard from the schoolmistresses and—oh, everyone—of dangers in the cities, especially London, but she would have thought a man would be safer. Could he have been—robbed, perhaps, and ... she didn’t know anything of what he might have done. If he was not able to afford a cab, and had had to walk? How large was London? How likely were such attacks?

At last, in a quiet moment, the desk clerk came over and suggested she would be more comfortable in a private space.

“Might I call the manager for you, miss?” he asked, and she acquiesced.

The manager was all kindliness to her, reassured her that surely it would not be long until her father arrived, and guided her to the ladies’ sitting room, suggesting she might read while she waited. She smiled wanly at him and agreed that she might.

She tried a newspaper (Afghan war begins with British victories, Is Bismarck a threat to England?, Two young boys found dead in Thames), and then found an American one which was a little diverting, and then paced. She had slept badly on the overnight train, from the novelty of it, and now she was exhausted but could not imagine resting.

What could have happened? London had police, of course it did. There were so many people—if one of them had seen harm come to her father surely they would have helped him. How could anyone simply—not come back—

When the windows began to darken she got up the nerve to go back to the vestibule and ask if her father had returned yet.

“No, miss,” said the desk clerk. “I will send for you when he does.”

She nodded—she had known that—and went back to the sitting room, and tried to sit still, and to keep her eyes focused on newsprint.

After yet more hours, past even the most fashionable dinner times, she asked again, and the clerk frowned.

“No,” he said. “It is rather late, isn’t it? I’ll send for the manager again, miss; he might have some advice, and I’m just coming to the end of my duties.”

The manager arrived again, in less of a good temper. “Yes? Oh, Miss—ah—Morstan.” At the sight of her he returned to smiling.

“Yes,” said Mary. “My father still has not arrived. I—I’m not sure what to do, but I wonder if it might be best if I,” she took a breath, “informed the police.”

The manager frowned. “I should not like to think—but yes, if you are certain he knew you were coming today—”

“Quite certain,” said Mary.

“Then, yes, perhaps you’d better.” He waved over a liveried boy. “Here, you. Fetch a police constable, will you?”

“Yes sir!”

She explained her story to the constable, who wrote it down and nodded and then said, “Could you describe your father for me, miss?”

“Ah—” Mary said.

She could remember her father, barely, from her childhood in India, tall and hearty and with a loud voice. But she had not seen him since. And now—

She gathered her wits and remembered the photograph he had sent her, and described it.

“And did he have any friends in town?”

“There was—” Mary tried to remember the name. “A Major Sholto, I believe. I don’t know of anyone else.”

“Well,” said the constable, finishing his notes, “what I would recommend, miss, is that you put an advertisement in the newspapers. Like as not you’ll get a response from whoever he went out to see last night, and we can go on from there. If he’s hurt, they might see it at the hospital or wherever he’s ended up.”

“Yes,” said Mary. “Ah—which papers would you recommend?”

He gave her a list. “Anything else you can think of, miss?” he asked.

“No, I’m sorry,” said Mary.

“All right, then, thank you. If I could—”

“You won’t need to search the hotel,” said the manager sternly. “Miss Morstan will be going up to her father’s room shortly and can look through it herself. And the maids would have reported if there was anything unusual.”

“As you say, sir,” said the constable, not entirely respectfully. “I’ll speak to the Inspector. If you find anything that would give us a hint, miss, of course send a wire. If that’s all, then goodnight.”

When he left she looked at the desk clerk and asked, “Could I take a room for the night?”

“We will be happy to put you up in your father’s suite, my dear,” said the manager, and the porter took her up and showed her that her father had taken two adjoining bedrooms, so she might sleep in the second without having to stare at her father’s suitcases and wonder. Though still she did not sleep much.

In the morning she sent advertisements to every paper the constable had suggested. Then she looked through her father’s suitcases. It felt—improper, prying, to do so, but she did not find anything either helpful or particularly unexpected, though there were some strange antiquities from the Andaman Islands.

There was nothing more she could do in the hotel, but she did not want to leave and perhaps miss news of her father. Which must come. She could scarcely believe that he was not here, and she was, that she was waiting alone in London without him. It felt unreal. She was not sure she had ever been so alone anywhere.

But she was not dreaming, and she must find something to do with her time. She told the desk clerk that she would be in the ladies’ sitting room again if anyone called for her, and paced back and forth, looking out the windows and occasionally wandering to the library and picking up and quickly discarding books. Time moved slower than honey in January. Would anyone have seen her advertisement yet?

In the afternoon the desk clerk came to the sitting room, and she was unable to contain her hope as she looked up, but he said only, “A police constable to see you, miss.” She followed him, still hoping.

All the constable could tell her, however, was that his Inspector had called upon Major Sholto, and that he could tell them nothing—he had not even known Captain Morstan was in London. The constable had then questioned various of the hotel servants, none of whom had any idea where her father had gone. He asked if the advertisements had drawn an answer, and she had to say they had not.

“Well, they might still,” he said. “You put them in for a full week?” Mary acknowledged that she had. “There may well be word yet, then, miss,” he said. “Don’t lose hope.”

And yet, Mary thought as he left, she did not think she could bear to wait a full week like this.

The time passed, slowly and uncomfortingly. Mary slept little, and did little; she went out into the streets of London a few times, and found only a wild confusion of people and buildings and nothing familiar or calming. If she had walked through the same streets with her father, she might have asked him what she was seeing, and exclaimed over what was new to her; she would have cared to go into the museums and galleries and historic buildings. As it was she only stared at their outsides, shivering in the December air, and could not imagine she would find any comfort within. She looked at the crowds and thought of how one might simply lose oneself, or be lost, in them, blurring into the mass of humanity somehow, until one was never seen again.

But he could not have abandoned her deliberately. And wouldn’t the crowds mean that someone would have seen him, and helped him?

A reporter came, from one of the papers she had advertised in. The hotel clerk frowned at him, but the journalist said that publicity would make it more likely she would hear news of her father, and she was ready to try anything. She saw the story in the paper the next day, and skimmed it, but she was too distracted to read it properly, and there could not, after all, be any new information there.

If he were—surely he was not, but if he were—if he had been attacked, someone would have found his—him, and reported it, and taken him to—a police station, or somewhere. Or replied to the advertisement. Surely there had been time by now. So he could not be—seriously hurt, for if he had been he would have been found. He must have been found.

But he could not be staying away on purpose!

She heard nothing more. On the evening of December eleventh, when the advertisements had been in the papers for a full week and drawn no response at all, Mary went to her bedroom early. She would have to return to school soon. She could not stay here—she did not want to stay here, hoping her father would return and knowing he wouldn’t. The police had said they would do everything required now that he was officially missing. She could, she hoped, find enough money in her father’s suitcases to pay for the hotel. And then—she did not know what would happen then. Perhaps Miss Braken, the headmistress, would have some idea what she should do. She entered her bedroom.

As she closed the door behind her, as her eyes adjusted to the room, lit only by the banked fire, she realized that there was someone already there.

He was her height, with long blond hair—was it a boy? He was wearing trousers, certainly, light blue work trousers and a blue jacket, which revealed a pink undershirt, but—no, she was a woman, she must be. But in such clothes!

Mary stared at her. She looked utterly out of place among the staid hotel furnishings, like a parrot in a henhouse. “What are you doing here?”

“I have no idea,” said the girl, gesturing with a hand holding a bottle. “Where am I?” Mary had never heard anything like her accent before, not even in India.

“My hotel room—at the Langham,” said Mary. “But how did you get in? It was locked.”

“I didn’t get in,” said the girl. “I just—I was drinking in Allie’s dorm and then I just, like, appeared here.” She looked around. “But not drinking that much. Look, I know it sounds totally dumb. I have no idea how it happened. Is this England or somewhere?”

Mary kept staring at her. “Yes?” she said. “Of course it is England.”

“No way,” said the girl. “This makes no sense.”

“Who are you?” asked Mary. “What do you mean—how are you here?” She was so tired, and so scared for her own future, and now there was this—this improper, or impossible—how could she deal with it? She should, perhaps, call for someone.

“Okay, calm down,” said the girl. “I’m Rose. Look, I get that you weren’t expecting me here, but neither was I. I swear I didn’t show up here on purpose. I just—popped out of a dorm room and into here like two minutes ago. And actually I think I’m probably dreaming.”

“I—” said Mary, feeling breathless. “I don’t—”

“I think you’d better sit down,” said Rose. She stepped closer, and Mary nervously let her guide her to the armchair. “How do you turn the lights on in here?” Rose asked.

Mary reached out and turned the knob on the wall lamp, and the gas flared up. Her visitor looked surprised. She also looked ... familiar.

Her hair was loose and cut oddly, with a straight fringe across her forehead. It seemed to be bleached, and Mary thought she was wearing paint. But under that, her face—

“Definitely dreaming,” said Rose. Rose, who looked exactly like Mary, except for how utterly unlike her she was.

“Yes,” said Mary, though why would she dream of herself in trousers? “I must be.” She choked a little. It had been such a long week of waiting, without any word. “I hope all of this week is a dream!”

“Oh, hey,” said Rose, as Mary found herself on the verge of sobbing. She had expected to start crying once she was safely in her room—Rose’s unexpected presence had only delayed it a little. “Hey, I’m sorry.”

Mary was past any chance of being comforted, and she did think now that she must be dreaming, so it did not really matter what she did. She let herself lose control, and Rose awkwardly put an arm around her shoulders. After a moment Mary found her handkerchief.

“Just cry it out,” said Rose. “Go on, it’s okay.” So Mary wept, and Rose crouched next to her chair and rubbed her back.

When Mary had stopped sobbing Rose got up and crossed the room to the washstand, and brought back a wet towel. Mary wiped her face, and dried it, and Rose asked, “What’s been happening to you? Here,” she added, picking up the bottle she had left on the floor and twisting off the cap, “drink this.”

The bottle declared itself to contain something called BACARDI BREEZER. Mary wondered if it was a patent medicine. When she tried it it tasted like nothing she had ever tasted before, overwhelmingly sweet and with a hint of strange fruits, and a little fizzy, like soda water. It was good, though, and she had not eaten or drunk anything since luncheon.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Rose asked. “It might help.”

“It won’t,” said Mary, and she explained a little of her circumstances.

“I’m so sorry,” said Rose. “He’s just—gone?”

“Yes,” Mary said, hearing her voice break again. She took another sip of the odd drink. It was, she thought, just the kind of thing one might find in a dream. Like in Alice in Wonderland, though she did not seem to be shrinking. She had some more. “I don’t know what to do now. I mean, I must go back to school, in Edinburgh, but...”

“How far is it?” asked Rose. Mary stared at her. Even a dream-woman, she thought, must know that.

“We’re in London,” said Mary, when Rose just blinked at her. “It’s in Scotland, a day’s journey by train—I didn’t mind, when I thought I would see my father, but...”

“Shh,” said Rose. “It’s okay.” Mary took another drink. “Is it a boarding school?” Mary nodded. “Then they’ll be able to help you. You’ve got somewhere to go. And if you’ve already done the train journey you can do it again.” She rubbed Mary’s shoulders again. She was leaning over her, looking sincerely down at her. “And you can leave your number with the police and they’ll tell you if they find your father. I mean, not your number, I guess. Your address.”

“How could he just have disappeared?” asked Mary, but her passion was gone; she was out of tears. She was not even truly confused; she could think of all kinds of horrible things that could have happened to him, though she had been trying not to all week. She did know that such things happened. But— “I didn’t think anything like this would happen to someone I knew,” she admitted. Her eyes stung, and she picked up the bottle quickly and finished it.

“Yeah,” said Rose. “It seems so far away, until it’s not.”

“Have you lost someone?” asked Mary. Rose winced.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” she said. “Jesus, I don’t even know your name. I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re a dream.”

“Ah,” said Mary, startled by the blasphemy. “Ah—Mary. Mary Morstan.”

“Oh. Well, of course Mary,” said Rose, though she didn’t explain what was of course about it. “It just feels so real, even if it’s also totally straight out of Back to the Future.”

“It does,” said Mary, trying to make sense of the second half of the statement. She had been too caught up in her own worries to bother wondering over Rose’s strange speech, but now she was coming back to herself.

She was also realizing that, unwilling or not, she was being a very poor hostess. She stood up, and then paused as the room seemed to spin slightly. “Oh,” she said, holding on to the chair. “Oh, I feel very queer.”

“Sit back down,” said Rose. “Here.” She took the bottle, and saw it was empty. “Oh. Um.”

“I was going to say you should sit down,” said Mary. “You have been so kind. And I should ring for someone—supper, maybe.” She went for the bell pull, and grabbed at Rose’s shoulder as she stumbled. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“No, it’s fine,” said Rose. “Anyway, I’ve eaten. Here, then we’ll sit on the bed.”

Once there, Rose cupped her hand around Mary’s chin. “That is so weird,” she said, as Mary stared at her, and she stared back. It was very queer, to be looking into a different version of her own face. That, and Rose’s touch, and perhaps the drink, made her feel strange—dizzy, certainly, and also warm through, and sensitive. She pressed her cheek into Rose’s hand, then embraced her.

“Okaaay,” said Rose. Mary sighed—this felt lovely. She leaned against Rose’s shoulder, and Rose stroked her face and hair. “Okay, yeah, I get needing a hug,” Rose said, and hugged back. “Um. You know you’re a little drunk, right?”

“I’m not drunk, I’m dreaming,” said Mary, not wanting to let her go.

“Okay,” said Rose. “Me too.” She rubbed Mary’s back. “Man, it feels like you’re wrapped in cardboard,” she added, as her hand met the top of Mary’s corset. “Isn’t that totally uncomfortable?”

It was a little now, when Mary was trying to lean sideways, but she certainly didn’t lace fashionably tight. “Not usually,” she said, wondering what Rose used for support. “You know I’m not a man,” she added, the oddity of Rose’s phrasing occurring to her.

“Well, obviously,” said Rose. Her hands slid down Mary’s waist, pressing in, and Mary shivered all over. She pressed her face against Rose’s neck. “You okay with this?” asked Rose, and Mary wondered vaguely what she meant by it. Rose seemed to be wearing very few layers. Mary pushed one of her hands under her jacket and felt just smooth fabric sliding over skin.

“Um,” said Rose, and then she touched Mary’s face again, lifting her head. Mary blinked at her, and Rose kissed her mouth.

Oh. Yes, she was dreaming, and she had dreamed of something like this before. Rose pulled away a little, and Mary leaned forward and kissed her again. Mary felt very warm, and everything in her wanted to be pressed against Rose. Something was throbbing in her chest, in her throat. Rose’s lips were very soft, and then there was something else—her tongue, gently running along Mary’s lips. Mary gasped a little and it slipped slightly in.

Mary felt like she was learning something, something deeply important. As Rose kissed her the warmth seemed to concentrate between her legs. She moved as close to Rose as she could, their breasts against each other, and tried to kiss Rose back the same way. “Mmm,” Rose hummed, and she slid her hands down Mary’s body.

“Can you even feel this, through all those layers?” Rose asked, and Mary gasped at the thought of having fewer. She could feel so much already—any change—

Rose was already unbuttoning her. “I mean, like,” she said, when Mary looked down at her hands, “just this, at least—you must be uncomfortable.” Mary said nothing, but undid the clasps at her throat and helped with the last few buttons, and then, shyly, spread the edges apart.

Of course, there were still all the layers of corset and shift underneath. Rose drew back a little, as if in dismay.

“How do you get out of all this?” she asked, and Mary giggled and shrugged her bodice off so she could start. There were more buttons on her corset-cover, and then she started unhooking her corset itself.

Rose reached out and trailed her fingers softly just above the top edge of the corset, and Mary stopped and shivered and found herself drawn up straight, unconsciously thrusting her chest forward. “Mmm,” said Rose, shifting her hands so she held Mary’s breasts and sliding her thumbs over the same line. There was only a single layer of cloth between her skin and Rose’s, there. Rose was staring down at her hands, and Mary could not stop herself from leaning forward and kissing her again. Rose’s hands tightened on her breasts, and Mary felt her partially-unhooked corset shifting. Rose kissed her back with as much passion, and then Mary was lying back on the bed, Rose next to her and half over her, panting for breath.

Mary’s own hands, however, were still over a layer of heavy twill cloth. She pulled at it, and then reluctantly started trying to move Rose’s arms so she could take the jacket off. Rose grumbled a little, then removed her hands for the bare minimum of time before she went back to trying, not very successfully, to finish unhooking Mary’s corset.

Under the jacket was only a short-sleeved pink shirt, in some stretching fabric and with no apparent fastenings. Mary pulled at it and Rose bent and raised her arms so it came off over her head. “Now show me how to get this off,” said Rose, pulling at Mary’s corset again, but Mary was distracted.

Rose was wearing nothing on her torso now except a tight white bodice covering just her breasts. The shape hadn’t been obvious beneath her loose clothing, but her breasts were held up and separate in two triangles of cloth, like nothing Mary had seen before. Mary sat up and cupped them without thinking about it, and Rose thrust her chest out for her, chuckling a little under her breath.

They did not feel so different from her own, apart from the angle. The cloth slid and caught oddly under her fingers. But they fit perfectly in her hands, and she gripped them a little, and she felt Rose’s nipples growing into points beneath her palms. She was breathless now, and she could not sit still. She hoped she would not wake up.

Rose’s hands were still pulling at Mary’s corset, and she managed at last to unhook it. Mary gasped in a breath, feeling her body shift as she filled her lungs. She pulled her hands back only long enough to toss her corset and discarded clothes off the bed. She was suddenly aware of her own nipples as they brushed against her shift. Then she reached for Rose’s breasts again, and Rose reached for hers.

Mary found herself mimicking what Rose did, and it seemed enormously effective. She leaned forward and kissed Rose, and Rose clutched her breasts and kissed her back, and Mary realized that she could slide her hands in under the edges of Rose’s bodice and feel her bare skin and her hard nipples. Rose moaned into her mouth and her hands trembled over Mary’s chest in a way that made her whimper and push herself even closer. She was squirming, she knew—she could not stop it, though she could feel, embarrassingly, that a patch of her shift was wet and stuck to her thighs.

“Let me get this off,” said Rose, and she did something behind her back and pulled her bodice off. Mary gasped and stared. She wanted to touch again—she reached out—and Rose pulled at the waistband of her skirt. “Now you,” said Rose. “You’re still basically fully dressed.”

“Not at all,” said Mary, but she stood and unbuttoned her skirt and the petticoat under it and pulled them off over her head. Rose frowned at Mary’s crinolette as if she’d never seen anything like it, and Mary quickly untied the waist and let it fall.

“How many skirts are you wearing?” asked Rose.

“Just the one more,” said Mary, blushing. If this was a dream, she wished that she could simply imagine herself naked, and Rose too. Rose kicked off her strange white canvas shoes and stood up, her breasts bouncing a little. Mary’s eyes were drawn to them, and Rose laid her hands on Mary’s waist.

“Here?” she asked, and untied the waist closure. She pushed the petticoat down, and smiled, and took hold of the hem of Mary’s shift. “There we go,” she said, and Mary felt herself blush very red, and raised her arms, and Rose pulled the shift off over her head.

The air struck her breasts, and then Rose’s hands. They were callused, and not from embroidery or writing, but Mary soon forgot that except in how they dragged over her sensitive skin. Rose pulled her closer and kissed her, and Mary caressed Rose’s back, and their bare breasts rubbed together in a way she had never imagined. It made her feel warm despite her near-nudity, and she held Rose tightly and realized she was whimpering. Rose hummed with pleasure and her thumbs pressed Mary’s nipples. Mary gasped and shook and Rose grinned without taking her lips from Mary’s, and said, “So, back to the bed, now?”

Mary would have agreed, but when she drew back a little she remembered Rose’s trousers, and she stopped to get rid of them. The belt was easy enough, and the button, but after that there was some strange closure holding the fly together, and she blinked at it, baffled. Rose pushed her hands away gently and pulled it open, and pushed her trousers down her thighs.

Her drawers under them, like her bodice, were tight and brief enough that they barely hid anything. “Oh,” Mary murmured, as the sight made her realize what exactly she was doing. Then Rose slid her hands up Mary’s sides and pulled her onto the bed.

There, without worrying about remaining standing or how close they could get, she could lose herself in the feeling of skin against hers. Rose was stroking her breasts, and Mary shook with every touch, wanting more, or not more but something else, though she couldn’t say what. No, no, she could, she wanted Rose’s hands—lower—but she was too busy herself with Rose’s back and arms and neck and hair under her hands—and if she turned, if she pushed Rose away just a little, she would be able—

She did, and Rose let her get her hands in between them, and she was not at all tired of the feeling of Rose’s breasts in her hands, and the way Rose responded to her touch. Which in fact could not be much different from Mary’s own responses, though she was beyond self-consciousness of them. Rose pulled Mary closer to her, squishing Mary’s explorations of her chest, and her hand slid down Mary’s back.

It ran over her drawers, and then her fingers dug into Mary’s bottom. “Oh!” said Rose, as her hand slid between the drawer legs and met bare skin. “Huh. Um.” Then she moved her other hand down and both her hands were on Mary’s skin and touching her and so close to—to—Mary whined and shivered and clenched her fingers on Rose’s breasts and Rose gasped and Mary couldn’t—she needed—

“Please,” she gasped.

“Let me take those off, even with—” Rose pulled at the fabric of Mary’s drawers, and Mary shook at how that pressed them against her.

Rose pushed herself up, and lay Mary beside her, and then pulled at Mary’s drawers, and her expression was so focused that Mary heard herself squeak, and then put a hand over her mouth. Rose tossed the drawers off the bed, and then Mary’s slippers, and spread her legs apart.

Mary didn’t realize what she was going to do until she did it. And then it felt too good to stop, although it was—really it was—

Rose had her mouth against Mary’s—against—and it felt—it was just what she had wanted. All that desire that had grown out of kissing Rose, and touching her, had centred there—and now it was building up pressure like a teakettle as Rose—as she licked her—

And something was going to happen—she didn’t know what it was but she needed it to happen and she couldn’t hold it back and she couldn’t be quiet and oh—!

After, she felt entirely relaxed and emptied out of all thoughts. Her legs were pressed together, and Rose had pulled her head away. Rose wiped her face and stretched out next to her, and Mary reached for her breasts.

But Rose was touching herself, between her legs, and she had done this for Mary, so—Mary slid her hand down, into Rose’s scanty drawers, and pressed there, not knowing exactly what she should be doing. Rose, though, pressed her own hand against Mary’s, and rubbed, and Rose was very slick and wet there, and Mary let her do what she wanted with Mary’s fingers and watched her face instead.

And she did still have one hand free, she realized as Rose bit her lip and closed her eyes, so she cupped Rose’s breast and rubbed her nipple between two fingers and Rose moaned and twisted her body and then screamed, just as Mary had screamed.

She held Mary’s hand there, rutting against it for a little longer, then relaxed and pulled Mary close. Mary hummed and pressed against her, enjoying the feeling of her warm soft skin. She still throbbed a little between her legs, but it was gentle and slow now and she felt utterly lovely and comfortable

Rose pulled away, and Mary opened her eyes and asked, “Where are you going?” But Rose smiled at her over her shoulder as she walked to the washstand, swaying slightly, and Mary relaxed and watched her hips move. Rose bent over the washstand and then returned with a damp cloth, and Mary realized that her hand was sticky and gratefully accepted it. She placed the cloth on the nightstand, and Rose lay next to her on the bed. Mary’s gaze fell to her breasts, and her hand after it. Rose laughed softly.

“Round two?” she asked.

Mary cupped Rose’s breasts. “Yes,” she said. She shifted so she could reach better, and in the end climbed astride Rose, and touched her, and watched what Rose’s face did as she squeezed her breasts and stroked her nipples and, feeling very daring, bent down and kissed them. And that made Rose hum happily so Mary did it again, and listened, and Rose’s skin felt so good under her mouth. Rose shifted her leg, and Mary realized she had been rubbing herself against it. She deliberately tried again, and Rose pressed back, and Mary whimpered and sucked hard at Rose’s nipple.

They fell into some kind of rhythm, Mary rocking her hips and Rose pressing her thigh between them, Mary holding Rose’s breasts to her face, both of them moaning. Rose’s hand slid off Mary’s back and tried to squeeze between them, and Mary reached down herself. Rose had discarded her drawers when she stood, and Mary’s fingers met with soft wetness at once.

She wasn’t quite sure what to do there, but she slid her fingers down along the wet space between Rose’s legs, and that seemed to work. After a couple tries Rose said, “There!” and Mary focused there, and then “Harder,” and then a series of moans that had Mary moaning herself, pressing herself against Rose. She tried to keep on with what she was doing with her hands and her mouth, but the way Rose was responding to her distracted her, drove her as well into passionate reactions, as she heard Rose rising to that peak under her. And then Rose grabbed her, digging her nails in, and arched up beneath her, and screamed, and Mary pressed harder and suckled harder and opened her eyes at the last moment to watch.

Rose relaxed against the bed at the end of it, but she kept her knee bent so Mary could keep rubbing against it. It wasn’t enough, though, and Mary stared at Rose, trying to come up with words for what she wanted. Rose reached up and gently caressed her breasts, and Mary moaned and pushed her chest forward, rutting harder against Rose, and at last gasped out, “Touch me—touch me!”

Rose flipped her over and did, her fingers sliding exactly where Mary wanted them to be at once. Her hair brushed against Mary’s nipple, and she whispered, “Come on, come on, that’s it, let go,” and Mary did, let herself explode as she had before, not thinking of anything but the waves of pleasure breaking within her.

When it stopped she wrapped herself around Rose, who leaned on her shoulder and sighed. Mary thought about saying something—she had no idea what—but before she could she fell asleep.

*

When she woke she was twisted up in the sheets. She grumbled and tried to pull the covers properly over herself, but in the process got still more tangled, and then had to catch herself before she fell off the bed. That startled her into proper consciousness, and she opened her eyes to see that she had not closed the curtains last night, and it was morning.

She turned to the other side of the bed, looking for—

There was no one else there. But—

No, of course there wasn’t. The room was on the fourth floor. How would she have got in?

But how did you get in?

But there had been—she had been—

It must have been a dream. Yes, it must have, of course it was, it had been carnal, and she wouldn’t have—but anyway the other girl had been wearing trousers. So it wasn’t really—it wasn’t—she mentally flailed for a word.

It wasn’t like that, anyway. And—

And her father was still missing. And she was still alone in London. She sat up, feeling at once all of her disarray and uncleanliness. She was wearing nothing but her stockings, and one had slipped out of the garter and was halfway down her calf. Her hair was still half braided, a few pins left in it, with the rest pulled out to tangle or hang loose down her back. The tops of her thighs stuck together.

Was it a dream? Rose could have left in the night, as mysteriously as she had arrived. The room was nearly as much of a mess as she was—that suggested it had all happened. And she was—she felt—

Had she really done that, all of that, now? When her father was likely—

He’s just—gone?

She shuddered, thinking of where her father, or her father’s corpse, might have been while she—

But it didn’t make sense—the other girl had had no explanation for being there, and spoken so strangely—certainly not like a maid—and now had completely disappeared. And there had been their impossible resemblance, and the drink, and the ecstasy—yes, it must have been a dream. She had been imagining all sorts of terrible things in the past week—her imagination might as easily have created a comforter when she needed one. And then it had changed, as dreams did, into—something else. But that didn’t mean anything. She would never have done that at such a time, no decent girl would have. So it had been a dream.

But now she was still in bed, tousled and naked, however she had come to be that way. And outside of this room there were things she had to do, had to prepare for.

She got out of bed and went to the washstand. There were no cloths there, but she found one on the bedside table and scrubbed quickly, trying not to think about anything. Her eyes felt dry and gummy even after she’d washed her face, and her head ached. Her clothes lay in heaps on the bedroom floor, no doubt badly wrinkled.

How many skirts are you wearing?

When she was clean she quickly pawed through her valise for another shift and her travelling dress. She would have to go back to school today. And she should telegraph first—hopefully someone would meet her at the station. She dressed quickly, tying the laces of her drawers and petticoats tight. Her crinolette and corset were at the foot of the bed—really, she should have put away her clothes properly last night. She always did normally. And surely there was no reason she should have been in such a hurry to go to bed.

How do you get out of all this?

No. It must have been a dream.

She searched the room before she thought better of it, but apart from the scattering of her own clothes there was nothing unusual. Nothing unfamiliar, nothing else out of place—just her handkerchief and a washcloth on the armchair, and the wild disarray of the bedclothes. She tried to think of another explanation. She had been very upset yesterday evening, she remembered that. She might have disordered her room in her unhappiness, she supposed. But she didn’t remember it—just her vivid, utterly shameful dream. Unless it hadn’t been a dream.

If it had been a dream, surely she would remember what had actually happened that night, as well.

The gas lamp by the armchair was still burning. She turned it off. She must put up her hair, and pack, and then break her fast, and then look up the train timetables. By the clock she didn’t think she would miss the morning train, but she would have to check.

First she made the bed. It didn’t matter—the chambermaid would see to it—but she shouldn’t leave a mess for her.

She folded all the clothes that were still on the floor and packed them in her valise. She made sure she had everything that was hers, and then went into the other bedroom and closed the door behind her. She did her hair in front of that room’s mirror.

That was it; that was everything she had to do here, and she could leave—no, her father’s things were still here.

She would have to pay the hotel from them. And then probably she should take them back to school with her—if her father did return and want them later he would know they were with her. Or possibly she could hire a solicitor, and he would know what to do. But she had no idea how to find one—she had better wait until she had returned to the school, and ask the headmistress for advice.

She looked around the room, and then could not help but glance into the other one again. It looked just as she had left it, a little untidy, with no one in it and nothing the hotel had not provided, and no way of getting in but the doors to the hall and her father’s bedroom. She shook her head and closed the door.

She had looked through her father’s things repeatedly over the past week, hoping to find some hint of where he was, but there had been nothing. However, she knew where he kept his money, and put enough banknotes in her pocket, to, she hoped, cover the hotel’s fees. Then she closed all the suitcases up again and rang for the porter.

He saw her down to the vestibule with her father’s luggage, and the desk clerk was very helpful with the bill. “Can I leave an address with you, in case the police or anyone else call for me?” she asked.

“Of course, miss.” So she gave him the school’s address, and thought that she would need a telegraph form and the train schedules, next.

But instead she asked him, “Do you have any foreign chambermaids?”

“Foreign?” he said. “Well, I don’t know—why do you want to know, miss?”

“Oh, ah, I saw one who looked, like—who sounded ... American?” She wasn’t sure America was right, but she had no idea what was.

“I doubt there’d be any American servants working here, miss, but I hope no one offered you any insult?”

Mary felt herself blush scarlet. “No, not at all,” she murmured. “I—is there a Bradshaw about?”

She went to the library to look up the trains. There were telegraph forms there, and she wrote to the school with her arrival time and sent a pageboy with the message. She thought, given the time, that she had better buy her breakfast at the station.

The porter summoned a hansom for her, and helped her load all her luggage onto it, and she fumbled for a tip for him. The cab started off, and in seconds the fine balconies and stonework of the hotel were behind her.