The party was winding down, at last, and the parlour was all but empty.
"You and I," said Doctor Macmillan, pointing with her cut-crystal tumbler, "need to talk."
"Er," said Dot, looking about for a potential escape. "I should get back to the kitchen?" She proffered the tray in her hands as evidence, the cake-smeared china and dregs of passionfruit flummery and strawberry stems.
"Nonsense," said Doctor Mac. "It's your party, Dorothy. Sit down and let somebody else take care of the mess."
Dot bit down on the retort that if she didn't take care of the mess, nobody would; it was a nasty thing to say, and in this case untrue. Even if it weren't for Mr Butler, Mrs Stanley had come down from her big country house for Dot's pre-wedding soiree, arriving like a steam train to the station, disgorging competent servants and matronly advice and self-satisfaction into every corner of the big house. From the kitchen, clinking and quiet voices attested to how un-needed Dot was, this evening.
"Drink?" Doctor Mac waggled the decanter at her, but Dot had partaken of several glasses of champagne earlier, testing her slight capacity to its very limit, and she couldn't quite help but recoil. Doctor Mac shrugged and topped up her own glass.
"Well," she said, sinking back into the armchair with her feet up on the ottoman. "Miss Dorothy Williams. Sunday's the day, eh?"
Dot nodded, pressing a hand against her belly, where the terrified fluttering started up every time she thought about it. "Ten o'clock, at St. Stanislaus," she said. "Luncheon to follow."
"And then the wedding night," said Doctor Mac cheerfully. "Well. Dinner first, probably, but then the wedding night."
Dot knew she was blushing. "Did Miss Fisher ask you to…?"
"She did," said Doctor Mac. "She's nosy, she can't help it. Best to get it over with." She reached over for her medical bag, tucked in the corner. "I brought books."
"Oh dear," said Dot, burying her face in her hands. "It's really not necessary, Doctor, I'm sure everything will be alright. My mother warned – told me how it goes."
"Dot," said Doctor Mac, kindly, and waited until Dot looked up at her. "Let me guess. You mother told you that it would hurt, or be terribly unpleasant, and it was best to grin and bear it for his sake?"
"No," said Dot immediately, then pulled a face. "She didn't say that. But what she described – it sounds so. Well. I can't imagine it being very enjoyable."
"Nor I, frankly," said Doctor Mac. "I can't imagine why Phryne thought I'd be the person to educate you; I've got as much use for handsome young men as I do thoroughbred horses, but you do seem determined to take one for a ride."
"There's no need to be vulgar," said Dot, instead of blushing, and Doctor Mac laughed out loud. "And there's no need for books, either – Miss Phryne was very. Uh. Generous." Not that Dot had done more than peek at the illustrations before burying the books at the bottom of her blanket chest and reciting the entire rosary three times over to still her pounding heart. She'd never imagined the marital bed to be so… athletic.
"Oh, 'Erotica of the Far East'?" said Doctor Mac. "A worthy piece of literature, to be sure, but I was thinking of something less advanced. Come sit by me."
Dot was reassured by the dry-looking medical book, with its dense text and many footnotes, until it fell open to a page that was clearly well-thumbed. It took a long moment for her to parse the pen-and-ink diagram, at which point she squeaked and dropped the book.
"Now, anatomy," said Doctor Mac serenely.
"Oh god," said Dot and put her head under a cushion.
"My dear," said Doctor Mac, taking it off her, "come Sunday, you will be confronted with one of these in the flesh, not to be too vulgar. Best to get a grip on things now."
Dot levelled her with as murderous a look as she could muster, which slid off Doctor Mac without making a dent.
"They aren't complicated," she said. "In a state of arousal, the blood vessels inside dilate and fill with blood, causing it to become erect. Once that state has been achieved, coitus can commence."
"Really," said Dot faintly, staring fixedly at the potted plant on the piano. Doctor Mac nudged her.
"You know what is involved in coitus, I take it?"
"If it's the same thing as fornication," said Dot, "then my sister was most insistent on explaining it to me when we were younger."
"Wonderful," said the good Doctor. "In any case, once sufficient stimulation has been applied, the member expels a quantity of white fluid, which, without certain steps taken, can cause pregnancy. And then I am told the fellow usually rolls over and falls most unflatteringly to sleep, but once again, this is hardly my area of expertise." She shut the book with a brisk snap, and poured herself another drink.
"Well," said Dorothy, into the ensuing silence. "I am glad we had this talk."
"Oh, that was just the formalities," said Doctor Mac. "Sit back down, Dotty. The truth is, it doesn't take much for men. They're terribly straightforward. Now, women on the other hand." She produced from her bag another book: this one rather old and very small, more like a pamphlet than a textbook. The cover proclaimed it be 'On the Treatment of The Fairer Sex: Hysteria and the Electric Cure'.
"I take it this is your area of expertise," said Dot.
"It's not just a job, it's a vocation," said Doctor Mac fondly. "Do you own a hand mirror, Dorothy?"
"Miss Fisher gave me a lovely one for Christmas," said Dot. "With a matching hairbrush. Engraved silver." Dot had cried over the present, and then felt silly for crying. But while living with Miss Phryne had made her accustomed to being given nice things, these had clearly been selected especially for Dot with some care, simple and tasteful, and Dot had been overwhelmed.
"Well, if you were to take that mirror and have a look at yourself where your mother doubtless told you never to look, you would see something like this."
Dot rather hoped not.
"It's not a very good drawing," said Doctor Mac. "Photographs of this sort are banned, of course, and even most medical textbooks make only a cursory reference to the female anatomy."
"How interesting," said Dot.
"If you will observe," said Doctor Mac, indicating the diagram, "in the act of coitus, the male member will penetrate this orifice here."
"Orifice," echoed Dot faintly. Doctor Mac patted her bracingly on the shoulder.
"In an ideal world, the entire thing would be painless and wonderful, and husband and wife would be transported together to the heights of et cetera et cetera. But your husband is just a pup."
"Hugh would never hurt me!" said Dot, roused to indignation.
"He does seem a nice boy," allowed Doctor Mac. "And you like him a great deal."
"I love Hugh," said Dorothy stoutly.
"And you like him," said the doctor. "You like to kiss him?"
Dot blushed. "Yes," she said. "It makes me feel…" Terrified and wondering all at once, the low, hot feeling in her belly and the scrape of his stubble against her throat. She twisted her hands together in her lap.
"Good," said Doctor Mac. "On Sunday evening, you should do lots of that. Do things that make you feel that same way." She tapped the book. "Your young man might not mean to hurt you, but if you're frightened and dreading it, it will be unpleasant. And it ought to be pleasant for you, Dotty. You deserve that."
Confused by the unexpected kindness, Dot said nothing.
"To that end, Miss Williams, you may be interested in taking that hand mirror of yours and familiarising yourself with this region of your nethers prior to Sunday, and thereafter taking some pains to direct your husband's attention to the same." The 'region' in question had been helpfully demarked and labelled by the artist. Dot did not try to read the label, but was unable to keep herself from attending to the lesson.
"Elizabeth Macmillan," said Miss Phryne, from the door to the parlour. "Are you plying my companion with pornography? You are a terrible influence." She swept in, all cloth-of-gold and cheekbones, and plucked the book from Mac's hands. "It isn't even good pornography."
"It's a medical textbook," said Dot.
"Of course it is," said Miss Phryne. "Nobody but a rubbishy male doctor could come up with this tripe, good lord. Look, it says women are 'incapable of arousal or climax without being penetrated by the male member'."
"Climax?" said Dot.
"I was working my way up to that," said Doctor Mac ruefully.
"I just bet you were," replied Miss Phryne, which made Doctor Mac choke on her whiskey and throw a cushion at Miss Phryne.
"Is it too late to change my mind?" asked Dot. "I feel a sudden calling to the convent."